Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: Weird Al Yankovic - Mandatory Fun

Last week, Weird Al Yankovic's latest album, Mandatory Fun, hit the shelves.  I was there on day one to snag a copy.  I was late getting into his works.  I never heard Fat when I was young, and I didn't watch Mtv to experience the videos.  It wasn't really until Star Wars: Episode 1 came out and The Saga Begins appeared on television and online that I started digging deeper into his history and works.  However, from that day, I was hooked.

So now, with what is likely his last album to be published (is that the correct term?) through a record label, it's time to see how Weird Al goes out.  Is it with a bang, or a sad accordion sound?

It's pretty great.  There, that was easy.

Now, I should probably go into more detail, so let's break the songs up a bit.  There's the "satires" and then there's the "originals."

The satires...well, for the most part they're as good as anything I've heard him write.  His song Tacky, an adaptation of Pharrell's Happy, is extremely well crafted.  Handy, based off of Iggy Azalea's Fancy isn't as good, but I think he's limited by what I feel was mediocre material to start with.  It also, I've noticed, has the least amount of connection to the original song as near as I can tell, aside from one lyric that makes reference to another song Iggy Azalea did.

I still prefer his to the original, though.

His song Inactive, a take on Imagine Dragon's Radioactive might be the weakest of the parodies, but is still clever enough and probably connects with a disturbing number of his fan base.  I also read that the group actually worked with Weird Al to make sure he captured the sound and tone of their song just right.

The rendition of Lorde's Foil is sadly extremely short, as he omitted the bridge and one of the choruses from the song, and it's probably the shortest song on the album.  I do have to say I love the transition the song makes from a helpful explanation of how to keep food fresh into a huge conspiracy theory rant.

And then there's Word Crimes, a take on Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines.

It might just be my favorite of any song he's ever done.  A huge rant against people who misspell words, use improper grammar, and generally just utilize language in a way that hurts the ears and eyes of English majors everywhere, it both manages to be extremely well laid out, brilliantly rhymed to let phrases come together, and also manages to mock both the people who screw up the language while using it as well as those who tend to go overboard in their criticism.

However, I do agree that we should all just relax when it comes to the Oxford comma.

Now for the originals.

I think that, of all the songs, the one I least enjoy listening to is My Own Eyes, a song done in the style of the Foo Fighters.  There were only a few of their songs I really liked, and the material feels a bit weak, though I do really enjoy how it manages to capture a good chunk of today's culture inside of it.  It's not a bad song by any means, but I don't think it stands up as well as the others.

There's also Lame Claim To Fame, a song that I can't really place the source material of, but the Internet tells me it's a group called Southern Culture On The Skids.  It's better, but it is steadily growing on me the more I hear it.

His sports song Sports Song is also steadily growing on me the more I listen to it.  It's particularly catchy, and it's rather remarkable that Weird Al hasn't done a sports-themed song yet.

While I'll confess to having never been a big Pixies fan, I do really like First World Problems if only because it also manages to perfectly capture another large aspect of today's society: people who complain who have no right to complain.  References to things that I'm sure people have complained about (no gluten-free cookies at the airport, being too late for the breakfast menu) hopefully helps nail home the idea that people really need to put things in perspective.

Now, there's usually always one song done in another group's style that simply blows me away.  In the last album, it was his take on the Doors to make Craigslist.  In this album, it's a take on Crosby, Stills, and Nash in a song titled Mission Statement, and it is a perfect example of how much work Weird Al puts into making his songs.

The last two, Jackson Park Express and Now That's What I Call Polka! are both two standards of his style of work.  The first, being the longest song on the album, is a satire on the styling of Cat Stevens, while the second is somehow both a mockery and love letter to pop culture songs translated to polka-style music.

Overall, I think the album is as good as any he's done, and certainly holds up extremely well against his early work when the idea of "parody" music was still fresh and original.  The fact that Weird Al manages to stay relevant in a world where anybody with a microphone and video camera can put their own parody online I think is a testament not only to how loyal his fan base is, but on how hard he works to keep his quality as high as he does.

You can go to his website if you want to see the videos for eight of his songs, but if you enjoy comedy and want to show your support for an artist who works just as hard, if not harder, than most pop stars, I recommend going out and buying it.

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