New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: ‘Equal Strain on All Parts’ is a celebration of chilling out

Jimmy Buffett’s final album serves as a beacon of light amid the sadness of his recent passing.
A tribute to musician Jimmy Buffett projected onto a wall above the Bowery Mural on 76 E Houston St. (Julia Diorio for WSN)

A number of things might come to mind when you hear the name Jimmy Buffett, many of which go beyond his music. Whether that be with his chain of Margaritaville restaurants, the accompanying resort empire or even the Margaritaville-themed retirement community, Buffett parlayed his career into a corporate empire like no artist before him. In light of his recent passing and posthumous album release, “Equal Strain on All Parts,” it’s time to reevaluate the roots of his fame: his music. Starting out in the early ’70s with a string of simple and sardonic country-influenced records before growing into the larger-than-life, laid-back, tropical superstar, the ever-versatile Buffett released over 30 albums during his 50-year career, becoming one of the world’s richest musicians in the process.

Buffet is often dismissed as a very safe artist, primed for mass consumption by baby boomers in search of some sort of lazy island escapism. In reality, for much of his career, he was closer to the outlaw country stars of his youth than a radio-ready public relations behemoth. Songs like “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” and “Jamaica Mistaica” — the latter of which was named after an aircraft he flew on with U2’s Bono that was mistaken for a drug smuggling operation and shot at by Jamaican police — are a nod to his raunchier, more humorous side. If Buffett is often thought of as a kitschy artist, it’s because he created the very cliches that are now tied to his work. A generation of highly devoted fans known as Parrotheads found something tantalizing in his responsibility-averse approach to American life.

Completed shortly before his death and released posthumously, Buffett’s latest record, “Equal Strain on All Parts,” suggests that he garnered a level of respect from his musical peers that might surprise some of his detractors. Featuring contributions from Paul McCartney, Angelique Kidjo, Emmylou Harris and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the album calls on some of Buffett’s friends in high places for a wide-reaching and celebratory result.

What’s most surprising here is Buffett’s stylistic ambition. The album opener, “University of Bourbon Street,” is a full-on Dixieland jazz ballad. He’s accompanied by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, perhaps the genre’s foremost torchbearer, and Buffett pokes fun at higher education, espousing the power of learning through wild nights and days on the streets of New Orleans.

The country-rock track “My Gummie Just Kicked In” couldn’t sound more different, featuring numerous guitar solos and a ripping, fuzzed-out bass line from McCartney. Buffett sings “Don’t know where I’m going / Don’t know where I’ve been / All I know for certain is / My gummie just kicked in.” It’s typical Buffett fare — a little bit of self-aware humor, a little bit of laid-back vibe-setting, but genuinely interesting production.

Corny lyrics such as “I want you to love me like my dog does” on “Like My Dog” are endearing and at times — even pretty funny. “Fish Porn,” however, is another story. It tells a tale of a man with a borderline fetishistic obsession with casting his reel out on the water that is perhaps better heard than read about. “Nobody Works On Friday” is a funky, careening country ballad that taps into Buffet’s recurring themes of hating your boss and spurning work altogether. The irony of a business-savvy musician worth over a billion dollars singing about zoning out at your desk could be further examined, but the song itself is an insanely catchy album highlight.

The titular track, “Equal Strain on All Parts,” serves as the emotional core of the record, and it is almost jarringly sincere after a barrage of comedic, light-hearted fare. Buffett remembers his grandfather’s lessons on how to go about life and avoid stretching oneself too thin. In some of his simplest, most direct writing, he sings “All those little things that my grandfather said / Not so little now, here in my grown-up head / I didn’t always see the wisdom at the time / But I’m older now.” It’s a very simple, sweet and slow moment on an otherwise aggressively slick record.

While many albums released by contemporaries at his age can feel half–hearted or sloppily done, “Equal Strain on All Parts” feels like a genuine labor of love and one that could have even benefitted from a little less nitpicky production. Though not every song is particularly memorable, it’s a well-paced and enjoyable collection that showcases his looseness when it comes to stylistic variety. In light of his passing, it instills hope that he will be remembered, at least in part, for his genuinely unique approach to songwriting, and not just for his marketing talents.

Contact Holden Lay at [email protected].

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