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From beyond the grave, Jimmy Buffet’s ‘Equal Strain On All Parts’ is indeed a bit strained

Buffett%E2%80%99s+music+definitely+hasn%E2%80%99t+aged+too+well%2C+but+the+musician%E2%80%99s+infectious+positivity+and+lovable+personality+has+genuinely+added+much+joy+to+the+world.
Sun Records
Buffett’s music definitely hasn’t aged too well, but the musician’s infectious positivity and lovable personality has genuinely added much joy to the world.

Jimmy Buffett died Sept. 1 of this year. At age 76, the “Mayor of Margaritaville” died of Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare form of skin cancer, and his death left a margarita-shaped hole in all of our hearts. A deficit of joy overcame the world that day. 

But the Parrot Heads (the name of Jimmy Buffett’s fanbase) soon had cause to celebrate a light at the end of the tunnel. Jimmy Buffett’s album, “Equal Strain On All Parts,” would be finished posthumously and released Nov. 3 to properly send off the legendary singer-songwriter as he ascends to that tropical island in the sky. 

Jimmy Buffett’s 50-year career has spanned 34 albums, two restaurant chains and an entire empire over tropical alcohol-induced relaxation built off one massive hit: “Margaritaville.” Everything he did added to his brand of island escapism, and even at the end of his life, his music is as carefree as ever. As the album cover shows, Buffett is still lounging on a hammock, donning sunglasses and strumming a little ukulele with a toothy grin. It’s almost as if he’s still with us. And if you need any more proof that after more than 40 years Buffett hasn’t abandoned the ethos of “Margaritaville,” the album wastes no time reminding you, opening on the track “University Of Bourbon Street,” a jaunty, anti-higher education, pro-alcohol anthem. “It really ain’t a mystery / I just followed my dancin’ feet / To the University of Bourbon Street.” The celebratory backing from New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band is a great touch as well. It’s fortunate that Buffett never ran out of types of alcohol to write about before he died.

“Equal Strain On All Parts” carries this same tone for its nearly one-hour runtime. It’s what Buffett does best, after all. He does throw in a couple of curveballs in the track list though, like “My Gummie Just Kicked In,” which is of course a fast-paced tropical-rock banger with none other than Sir Paul McCartney contributing to the track. “Don’t know where I’m goin’ / Don’t know where I’ve been / All I know for certain / Is my gummy just kicked in,” he sings in the chorus. While the subject of the song is nothing new for Buffett — he launched his own cannabis line back in 2019 — the way he leans into the goofiness of the song is very cute and at least worth a chuckle, but maybe not a playlist add. 

Buffett really covers all of his bases on this record. A surface-level optimistic “things will get better” ballad with the song “Bubbles Up,” a song about a fishing addict called “Fish Porn” and who could forget the cringy, misogynistic “Like My Dog,” which is for all those old, retired men  — Buffett’s primary demographic — out there who just want their wives to be as quiet and subservient as a dog would be. “She never says, ‘Why don’t you get off that couch?’ / She don’t cost me nothing when she wants to go out / I want you to love me like my dog.” Not exactly a great look for Buffett. It would have been disappointing if Buffett didn’t include a song sneering at the “kids these days,” but luckily, “Portugal Or PEI” has that covered. According to Buffett, the youth need to get off TikTok and instead listen to the Rolling Stones, because, of course, that would probably solve a lot of the world’s problems. Not to mention his cover of the Noel Brazil tune “Columbus,” which unapologetically, or ignorantly, reduces colonizer Christopher Columbus to just a wide-eyed traveler with his “maps and beautiful charts.” It is just too on-the-nose for Buffett, who did his own fair share of colonizing during his career with his “tropical music” pastiches.

Buffett’s music definitely hasn’t aged too well, but the musician’s infectious positivity and lovable personality has genuinely added much joy to the world. He lived a happy and successful life, and his music has earned legendary status with its wide appeal toward escape and fun. Even though there’s a good deal to complain about on this album, as long as it lives up to the brand Buffett so effortlessly built across his lifetime, it is worthy as his final album. This rest of this album is just predictable for Buffett: his tribute to Johnny Hallyday, “Johnny’s Rhum;” his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mozambique;” the dramatic “Close Calls.Fortunately, there’s not much here that is worth really diving into. Usually, that would be a bad thing, but anything more would be an improper tribute to Buffett, who coasted on the same gentrified tropical sounds and recycled stories about falling in love in paradise for decades. It’s the same cheap, disposable escapism that had baby boomers everywhere ingesting copious amounts of alcohol and celebrating the joys of a privileged, careless life. “Equal Strain On All Parts” is everything Jimmy Buffett stood for and represented, making it a fitting end to his career. Rest in peace, Mayor of Margaritaville.

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  • Z

    ZacharyDec 5, 2023 at 1:24 pm

    Fantastic review, Jess Williams!

    Reply
  • S

    Sean kennedyNov 22, 2023 at 1:23 pm

    Jess Williams, what a horrible write-up you are clueless.

    Reply
  • C

    Curtis McSweginNov 16, 2023 at 4:43 am

    Well, where do I start? How do I start? I’m so tired of explaining the enjoyment, the attraction, the impossible to duplicate fun & then the disbelief & soul clutching sadness that was Sept 1st/2nd… These “professional “ critics never will understand..introduced 1980 on Son of s son album 3 shows in the Navy ,Ft Lauderdale 86 & 88 and then July 30, ‘89 William & May football field “and nobody came” was what cemented my life w/ Freddie Fishstick!!!!… I just miss my friend!!!!…

    Reply
    • J

      Jess WilliamsNov 19, 2023 at 11:58 pm

      Curtis, thank you for the comment. I really wish I enjoyed this album because Buffett really is a legend, and all the memories people like you have made with his music over the years are so powerful. You are right, it is hard for me to understand the appeal, but I’m going to be honest about that when writing about the album. It’s all subjective, that’s why I love music discourse. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the record.

      RIP to the man, the myth, the legend.

      Reply