Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jimmy Buffett

  • A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean [ABC/Dunhill, 1973] B
  • Living and Dying in 3/4 Time [ABC/Dunhill, 1974] B-
  • A1A [ABC/Dunhill, 1974] B-
  • Havana Daydreamin' [ABC, 1976] B
  • Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes [ABC, 1977] B+
  • Son of a Son of a Sailor [ABC, 1978] B
  • Volcano [MCA, 1979] B-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean [ABC/Dunhill, 1973]
My shit detector went crazy the moment I spied the admiring apostrophe by sports novelist Tom McGuane, and indeed, Buffett shares McGuane's sexism (he likes Key West because "the ladies aren't demanding there"), covert nostalgia, reverse preciousness, and brain-proud know-nothingism. But his good-old-boys songs are classics of sheer hair, making up for the overt "They Don't Dance Like Carmen No More" and the know-somethingish "Death of an Unpopular Poet." And a vignette called "Cuban Crime of Passion" has Dickensian heart. B

Living and Dying in 3/4 Time [ABC/Dunhill, 1974]
When the best cut on a singer-songwriter's album is a tall tale, he's either Arlo Guthrie or confused about the nature of his talent. And since this tall tale is about getting drunk, he's probably not Arlo Guthrie. B-

A1A [ABC/Dunhill, 1974]
On side one, apparently running out of things to say, he includes among three nondescript covers an Alex Harvey song called "Makin' Music for Money." Buffett would never do this, which is why he's recording his third album in a year and a half, right? On side two, however, he remembers his message: he's a beach bum and always will be. Let's hope so. B-

Havana Daydreamin' [ABC, 1976]
Undeniably, this romantic individualist has staked out his surf; perhaps it is because his utopian sunland is Florida (rooted in the South) rather than California (headed toward the Orient) that his songs are so adult, skeptical, and closely observed. He doesn't sentimentalize in any obvious sense--the outsiders he sings about (including himself) are neither pitiable victims nor heirs of unacknowledged privilege. But when he essays some lyricism (about his grandfather, say, or the "so feminine" mandolin) he becomes totally mawkish, revealing a softheadedness that in the best Hemingway tradition he is careful to conceal most of the time. And upon close analysis this softheadedness extends even to his best lyrics--he is so intent on the day-to-day that he never cultivates an overview. Buffett is singing with new lustre, and I can't bring myself to put this down. But I don't expect to be putting it on much either. B

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes [ABC, 1977]
Buffett's certainly more likable than the average professional rakehell--he's complex, he's honest, he takes good care of his sense of humor, and above all he doesn't come on like a hot shit. This is his most reflective album, and though I'm nothing like him--"Wonder Why We Ever Go Home" is hardly my take on aging--I find myself interested whenever he stops and thinks, which happens mostly on side one. "Banana Republics," about expatriates reaping the wages (and pleasures) of imperialism even if Buffett would never put it that way, is my favorite, but I also love this breakthrough insight from his breakthrough single: "Some people claim that there's a woman to blame/But I know it's my own damn fault." B+

Son of a Son of a Sailor [ABC, 1978]
Buffett is very good at what he does, and it says a lot for his composing that the two changes of pace by Keith Sykes are the least memorable cuts on the album. But Buffett's band can't quite cut the funny, intelligent good-time music that is his forte. Anyone who gets up and boogies to rock and roll as routine as "Livingston Saturday Night" has been shaking ass to whatever came off the bandstand since he or she reached drinking age. On record, there happens to be better and more functional music available. B

Volcano [MCA, 1979]
In the two years since "Margaritaville" made him an "overnight sensation"--the phrase occurs in "Dreamsicle," the most confused and meaningful song here--Buffett has signed on with Irving Azoff, a manager renowned for keeping the Eagles, Steely Dan, and Boz Scaggs rich on minimal work. Whether this LP reflects a success trauma or Buffett's oft-asserted indolence I don't know. I do know that he hasn't used so many outside songwriters since A1A. B-

Further Notes:

Distinctions Not Cost-Effective [1980s]: His best title since A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean told us what had become of him: Last Mango in Paris.