Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Steely Dan: The Royal Scam [ABC, 1976]
The first question is whether the melodic retreat represents a refusal to indulge the audience or a withering of invention. The second is whether the conscious choice of a jagged, pinched music is a wise one. As if in compensation, the lyrics are less involuted and personal, but in fact their objectivity intensifies Steely Dan's natural nastiness. Whether this narrowing of spiritual possibilities is willed or a symptom of the same chronic insularity that makes Fagen and Becker unwilling to tour, the result sounds a trifle arty and a trifle producty at the same time. Does it matter whether they call San Juan "the city of St. John" in reference to the apocalypse or because it scans nice? B