Jimmy Buffett, “Life on the Flip Side” (Mailboat Records)
Jimmy Buffett’s first studio record in seven years arrives with equal parts seduction and absurdity.
Coming just as we crave a margarita in a mason jar, sand in our toes and the salty wind of the ocean, Buffett’s beach bum life — often mocked — has never been so aspirational. What we wouldn’t do right now to join a goofy conga line.
The 14-track “Life on the Flip Side” is no departure from what Parrotheads have come to expect — that special Gulf Coast mix of country, pop, folk and rock, topped by Buffett’s swaying voice. Few can mix steelpans, trombones and pedal steel guitar so effortlessly.
Though the songs were written before the global pandemic, the album nods to our viral troubles. Buffett writes that he’d like them to be the soundtrack as we claw our way to normalcy. Think of it as the flip side of COVID-19.
“Hopefully, the songs we wrote and recorded, will also help folks deal with the fallout,” he writes in the liner notes. “There will be a time and a place when we emerge from these troubled waters and things will change for the better.”
Buffett’s incredible ear for hooks and light grooves are often overshadowed by his lyrics about fish tacos and sunsets, but don’t underestimate his song skills. Many of these tunes are destined to be played two generations from now at sandy beach-side snack bars. Will we be wearing masks still?
Produced by two members of his longtime backing band, Michael Utley and Mac McAnally, Buffett is also clearly having fun on the new album, including the jokey ditty “Cussin’ Island” where he rhymes “hypocrite” with “Messerschmitt.”
He salutes the folk who take the time to look around in “The Slow Lane” and mourns that so much of his surfing is on a website (“Hey, That’s My Wave”). He seamlessly mixes salsa and mambo for “15 Cuban Minutes” and gets jazzy in “Half Drunk.” The only song on the album that doesn’t quite fit in Margaritaville is his cover of Paul Brady’s “The World Is What You Make It,” which wanders too far lyrically and musically from the rest.
Toward the end of the album, Buffett treads carefully into Tropical House with the superb “Live, Like It’s Your Last Day,” which has lyrics seemingly perfect for this pandemic. “Live like it’s your last day/Time just keeps slippin’ away.” You’ll sing along with Buffett — and wish.