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POP MUSIC | RECORD RACK

** JIMMY BUFFETT, "Don't Stop the Carnival," Margaritaville/Island

April 26, 1998|Steve Hochman

Paul Simon's musical "The Capeman" may have been a muddled mess, by all accounts, but at least he was reaching for something with a story full of moral and cultural complexities. With his first foray into theater, a collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winner Herman Wouk, Buffett has few such concerns to burden him.

Wouk's 1965 novel about a Manhattan public relations man's mid-life crisis and his move to a Caribbean island is practically custom-written for Mr. Margaritaville--and that's the problem. Never one to stretch much anyway, Buffett here sticks to his well-worn blend of quasi-calypso and other tropical-lite styles, which back character portraits in which winks and word-play substitute for depth and emotion.

In his lyrics, the island of Kinja is a cardboard paradise populated by caricatures--from the Buffett-voiced protagonist trading his gray flannel life for seaside color to standard-issue politicians, businessmen, tourists and love interests, portrayed on this album by various members of his Coral Reefer Band.

Perhaps Wouk's stage dialogue fleshes it out, but the great musical writers--from Oscar Hammerstein to Howard Ashman--tell the stories in song. Buffett offers little more than character introduction and set-up, with a lack of dramatic momentum or relationship dynamics. All in all, it sounds more like skits from a cruise ship revue than something sailing for Broadway glory.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent)

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