Tuesday, July 22, 2014

You MUST Have Fun!

Unless you haven't been using the internet in the last week, you're aware that "Weird Al" Yankovic has planted his flag back in the mainstream. (And looking at my Facebook wall, I'm not the only one who has been sharing his new material.) His "eight videos in eight days" push has been to promote his new album, "Mandatory Fun." It's his first album in several years, and the last under his current recording contract. (He's indicated that he may move to independent distribution in the future to allow his parodies to get out there in a more timely manner.)

I've been a huge fan of Weird Al since the 80s, a time when no one would ever have dreamed he would outlive many of the artists he was lampooning. And while I myself have certainly fallen even farther behind the trends (I don't always know the songs he's targeting anymore), he has stayed on the top of his game. Mandatory Fun is a very strong album.

The hallmarks are, as always, his parodies. There are five this time. From most to least clever, in my opinion: "Word Crimes," a grammar lover's take on Robin Thicke's controversial "Blurred Lines"; "Tacky," a hilarious adaptation of Pharell Williams' ubiquitous "Happy"; "Foil," a parody of Lorde's "Royals" that includes a funny and sinister twist; "Inactive," a re-imagining of Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" (including a much-deserved ribbing of the original's strange sound effects); and "Handy," a take on Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" that is the most current of the album's parodies.

And also as always, Weird Al's original material is just as inspired and clever as his direct parodies. These often take on the style of other artists without directly mimicking a specific song, and the lyrical wordplay is just as smart. "Lame Claim to Fame and "First World Problems" are particularly funny among this crop -- though the latter is so perfectly styled after The Pixies, a band I truly cannot stand, that I have a hard time listening to the pastiche. "Sports Song" is a hilariously generic fan anthem that could conceivably show up at future college or high school events. "Mission Statement" is everything I hate about corporate jargon distilled in an uncanny pastiche of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. "My Own Eyes" feels like a song the Foo Fighters might actually have recorded on an odd day and then shoved into the vault. And "Jackson Park Express" is Yankovic's now-expected long song to close the album, a stalkery love song with a Cat Stevens' vibe.

Of course the other now-expected element on a Weird Al album (and perhaps a future casualty if he does abandon the album format in the future) is the polka medley. This album's "NOW That's What I Call Polka!" is a tight collection of every recent song you're probably sick to death of -- a pop music time capsule.

If you missed the videos that went with most of these songs, it would be well worth your while to catch up -- either on Weird Al's web site or elsewhere on the internet. And as for the album? I'd recommend picking that up too. I give it an A-.

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