Summer ritual No. 1: Jimmy Buffett goes on tour, faithful Parrotheads unite for multiple shows at huge venues (Thursday and Saturday at Nissan Pavilion, Aug. 26 and 28 at Merriweather Post Pavilion).
Summer ritual No. 2: Jimmy Buffett puts out a new album--"Beach House on the Moon" (Margaritaville/Island) is his 31st--but those same Parrotheads just can't seem to find their way to record stores the way they do to the concert venues.
The new album explains why. It's a lazy, indulgent, halfhearted effort in which the best song is written by an outsider (Bruce Cockburn's reflective "Pacing the Cage") and Buffett's chant-along intentions are betrayed on such sophomoric fare as "Math Suks" (so dus speling, aparintly), the cranky/crotchety "I Don't Know and I Don't Care" and "Permanent Reminder of a Temporary Feeling," a morning-after ode to tattoos and papooses.
So much for changes in platitudes.
There's still far too much of the lazy, lilting Caribbean ambience, which transforms the mock-apocalypse of "Waiting for the Next Explosion" into a dud and undermines the title track, a languid but otherwise charming paean to childhood imagination and the spirit of exploration.
However, Buffett does vary the menu this time around, from the swing shuffle of John D. Loudermilk's "You Call It Jogging (I Call It Runnin' Around)" to the light Cajun spice of "I Will Play for Gumbo," propelled by Marc Savoy's accordion. And while "Flesh and Bone" offers a facile twist on the frustrations of modern miscommunication--"I can't fax you my love/ I can't e-mail my heart/ I can't see your face in cyberspace"--the song has a charming, Sam Cooke-style sway and benefits from vocal support by beach music veterans the Tams.
Surprisingly, Buffett's most invested vocal comes on Cockburn's beautifully written "Pacing the Cage," graced by subtle production that anchors Buffett's soft-spun vocal with supple keyboard reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen's melancholy movie themes.
In the album-closing "Oysters and Pearls," Buffett meditates on free will and settled fate, acknowledging the mystery of a world "where most live as oysters while some become pearls." Sadly, pearls of song are harder to find these days in Jimmy Buffett albums.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8165.)
CAPTION: Buffett, stuck in Margaritaville.