***HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS, "Small World," Chrysalis.
A globe-hopping tour reportedly helped to immerse Huey and the boys in the jazz and reggae influences heard on their fifth album. But as far as lyrical content goes, "Small World" sounds as if they got no farther than Disneyland. The News here is that our little orb is a clean, well-lighted place kept spinning by the force of incessant good cheer.
The title song chirpily suggests that, poor man or prince, we're all in the same boat together, and with just a little cooperation we could all have a grand ol' time. "Perfect World" concedes that life isn't quite perfect, but posits the power of positive dreaming as the answer to its shortcomings. Huey takes us to the perfect folksy roots-music bar ("Old Antone's") and shows us the perfect father and son relationship ("Walking With the Kid"). When he pauses, in "Better Be True," to worry momentarily about whether a love interest might have an imperfect, cheatin' heart, Lewis' level of anguish rates a perfect zero on the Richter scale of emotional disturbance.
But to dwell on the fluffy substance of what Lewis sings is to miss the point. He fronts one of the best good-time bands around, and "Small World" is a finger-popping zinger of a party album. Lewis, as always, puts across catchy tunes with throaty bonhomie, but his smartest move here is giving the band, abetted on half of the tracks by the trenchant Tower of Power Horns, plenty of turns in the spotlight. Whether swinging brightly through the instrumental reprise of "Small World," which features a sleek Stan Getz sax solo, laying down a booming reggae groove on "Bobo Tempo," merging lighter reggae with Temptations harmonies on "Better Be True," or playing horn-driven funky stuff a la Kool & the Gang on "Slammin'," the News is just plain good.
In party rock with higher aspirations (see Prince), we're always aware that revelry is a temporary respite from a world of troubles. Lewis' small world is a happy theme park devoid of demons, and hence devoid of substance. But escapist fun is still fun, and on "Small World" Lewis & the News deliver it as well as they ever have.