Jimmy Buffett Album #14: Riddles in the Sand
August 5, 2010 2 Comments
Typically the new album experience for me is a painful gestation. It’s work. But as I mentioned earlier this week, Riddles in the Sand is miraculously… tolerable. In fact after my first listen-through I had to restrain myself from immediately posting my mild praise here, for all the world to see.
After a few days of further digestion and questioning every belief I’ve ever had, I’ll now validate that Riddles is indeed laudably consistent — as even-keeled, probably moreso, than even Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.
Alright, fine. It’s good. Shut up.
Three things distinct in Riddles:
- It’s little bit country, a lot less rock-and-roll. Unlike JB’s prior 80s albums, which were as experimental as his 80s parties must have been, every song here is pretty typical country.
- Steel drum sobriety. This has maybe one-tenth that odious instrument as One Particular Harbour. It’s still almost too much. But generally, and I can’t believe I am writing this somewhere people might see it, the drums are used just enough — and deftly so, at that — to introduce the right amount of Gulf Coast into the album.
- Jimmy didn’t write any of the songs himself. He’s a “co-writer.” Maybe that has something to do with it.
I’m sure JB regards Riddles as disturbingly middle-of-the-road. That’s probably true; none of the songs are that fantastic, or individually as good as his best from the 70s. Be that as it may: this is a solid album, restrained throughout, and one I could put on during a party without being utterly exposed.
Let me make sure that resonates, as my blood has just run cold: Buffett. On the LP. Around people who know me. On purpose.
(Although should anyone pay attention to the lyrics I might be in some trouble.)
Bernadette: Holy crap. Did you just hear that?
Me: What? (Shoves a canapé into her mouth.) I didn’t hear any–
Bernadette: The lyrics in this song’s chorus. They’re idiotic.
Me: Oh. That? I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been paying att–
Bernadette: Wait a second. Is this Jimmy Buffett???
(Can you believe I didn’t make it in Hollywood? I know!)
OK, let’s get through this, because I’m nauseous:
I’m not going to go song by song. Neither of us has the energy for that. So I thought about focusing on just the worst ones — that would at least make me feel better — but then realized that if I listed the “meh” tracks on Riddles in the Sand, I could really only single out a couple. That should say something. Like, that I’m probably drunk right now.
Even better examples of the significance of this album:
“She’s Going Out of My Mind” is slow/melancholy, bordering on overwrought. Common enough for Jimmy, but get this: it remains bordering. It doesn’t become maudlin. It’s good. And the lyrics aren’t even about Alzheimer’s.
“La Vie Dansante.” You know how I feel about foreign-language songs. This even features a woman wailing throughout the background of the (repeated x1000) final chorus. But damn if this doesn’t get stuck in your head anyway. And there was plenty of room here for a boy-choir to show up and sing an entire verse in full-on French, but… nope. Never happens. In fact the only words in French are the three of the title. And no boy-choirs make an appearance at all — on the entire album. Such restraint!
“Come to the Moon.” Now this song I like a lot — this is the best of the bunch — but I won’t give JB a pass on the lyrics (I suspect this is where he earned that “co-writer” title). The song is literally about interstellar romance, and as a result I can’t shake the mental picture of Jimmy prancing about in a glittery, skin-tight silver spacesuit. This begs the question of why in my mind spacesuits are glittery and skin-tight, but that’s my own issue.
It’s a shame that Jimmy — or whoever wrote this for real — takes the title literally. I’m going to help, but first have a listen to a painful sample from the chorus:
So come to the moon
The starship’s leaving soon
Until then I’m wishing on every star
That you will be here real soon
Come to the moon
I know. “Starship.” (And yes, that’s why Jefferson Starship was in my head earlier this week.)
I took the liberty of rewriting the lyrics to something more down to Earth and Buffett-ish, and this is what I now sing in my head:
So come to my room
The check out time is noon
Until then I’m raiding the minibar
Valet will park your car; come soon
Up to my room.
Better, right? That took me like thirty seconds, Jimmy, and it even has an internal rhyme. Call me.
My other favorite part is in “Knees of My Heart,” the most Caribbean of the songs on Riddles. It’s in the steel drum breakdown — I know, what’s happening to me? — where out of nowhere appears half of the theme from “Under the Sea.” Listen up:
My first thought of course was sheer fury. “Look at this guy, thieving from Walt frickin’ Disney. La vie horrible!” Then I remembered Riddles came out five years before The Little Mermaid. Jimmy didn’t steal from Ariel; she and her subaqueous cronies stole from Jimmy!
Indeed, riddles abound in Riddles in the Sand. Who really wrote these songs? What kind of far-ranging influence does Jimmy wield in the Imagineering ranks? What tragedy befell the steel drummer? Since when do I offer canapés at parties?
And who, dear God, is Bernadette?!?
My song ratings from iTunes:
A “3” means I would be okay hearing the song again.
Average iTunes Rating: 2.6
Who’s the Blonde Stranger? 
When the Wild Life Betrays Me 
Ragtop Day 
She’s Going Out of My Mind 
Bigger Than the Both of Us 
Knees of My Heart 
Come to the Moon  (really 3.5)
Love in Decline 
Burn That Bridge 
La Vie Dansante