In Brief: Flawed, and almost half previously released material, but most of it’s still funny. I’d probably appreciate more of it if I were more in touch with pop culture, honestly.
“Is he still around?”
That question seems to come up whenever I’m feeling brave enough to admit to the people around me that I’m a fan of Weird Al Yankovic. For a while, I could understand the question. Pop music’s most well-known parodist had his biggest brushes with the mainstream in the 1980s, parodying artists whose careers would mostly flame out while he was still going strong in the 1990s and onward into the 21st century, but most people couldn’t be blamed for not realizing Al was still doing his thing. I feel like that should have changed, however, in late 2006 or early 2007 when “White and Nerdy” brought Al back to the charts. Sure, it wasn’t the kind of song I heard everywhere, but when the original artist (in this case rapper Chamillionaire… is he still around?) starts getting congratulated by misinformed listeners for his version of Weird Al‘s song, you know Al’s done something right, by taking a lingo-heavy song that manages to sound pretty ridiculous in mainstream context, and dorking it up considerably to make it fit a completely different subculture. Straight Outta Lynwood, the album from which “White and Nerdy” hailed, was one of Al’s strongest, managing to make me laugh even in the vast majority of cases when I didn’t even know the songs he was parodying. Al should have been able to maintain a higher profile after that… except then he seemingly disappeared for the better part of five years, and is only now coming back with his latest attempt at co-opting the mainstream.
Only here’s the thing. Alpocalypse is a brand new album, yet some of the material on it is pushing three years old. Al was working on it on and off during the longer-than-usual wait after Lynwood, but apparently there wasn’t enough popular music that lent itself well to hilarious parodies in the ensuing years, because in 2008 we got one very timely rap parody about America’s terrible economy leaked to the web as a stand-alone single, but no mention of an official album release. Further material came across like it wasn’t quite good enough for an album, honestly, since Weird Al proceeded to release four “style parody” songs over the course of 2009, each with its own animated video that went straight to YouTube. The five songs were collected on an EP unimaginatively titled Internet Leaks, and I found most of it to be okay, but not particularly riotous like Al’s best stuff. So I was a bit taken aback when I found out that all five of those tracks would be taking up space on the summer 2011 release, Alpocalypse. That only left room for seven previously unheard songs, and part of the fun with a new Weird Al disc has always been going in completely unspoiled, not knowing at all what sort of mayhem to expect. With most of the “originals” already leaked and the announced parodies not even remotely approaching my personal musical tastes (not a single rock parody, and Weird Al doesn’t generally spoof the indie stuff), my anticipation level quickly dropped to “lukewarm”. Maybe I was finally starting to outgrow my Weird Al fandom?
As it turns out, Alpocalypse is still a pretty funny album, maybe held back by a few dull moments where the joke wears out long before the actual song does, but brought back up again by some unexpectedly hilarious material buried deeper in. It’s Al’s keen ear for the details – either in replicating the exact instrumentation and background vocals as best he can in his straight-up parodies, or rearranging an artist’s most known and best-loved quirks in his original “style parodies”, or even in the insane polka medley he churns out every album – that keeps the music listenable even after the jokes have already been told. There’s enough talent in his band to adapt to many varying musical styles, floating about in the wind with the fickle whims of pop music, and to sound good doing it, often revealing that some idiotic song I can’t stand on the radio actually has a pretty solid hook, that I end up responding much more favorably to when the lyrics are knowingly written to be ridiculous. In some ways, this makes me sad for popular music in our day and age – we’ve got a lot of performing artists, and songwriters supporting them, who know their way around a good hook, but who often don’t know the boundary between genuinely creative writing and embarrassingly personal details (or just plain old bad taste), or else who just figure people don’t care as long as it’s got a beat and they can dance to it. Weird Al rarely mocks these artists bluntly – his parodies are largely affectionate, finding that kernel of a genuinely enjoyable song underneath the trashy or just plain vapid exterior. I figure that’s why he’s still able to do what he does despite being a novelty act who’s been in the business since before most of his current fanbase was probably even born. At the end of the day, he genuinely enjoys the friendly roasting and the clever reverse engineering of other musicians’ bizarre pop confections.
1. Perform This Way
In many ways, this was the song that held back the album. Weird Al didn’t want to release a new full-length disc without something current as its front-runner. And as much as I hate to admit it, no popular musician seemed to have captured the public’s attention as in the early 2010s as Lady Gaga has. Once Al found “Born This Way” and realized he had an amusing enough paordy idea, he was able to complete the album with it rather quickly, but he hit another snag when trying to get Gaga’s permission (which he isn’t legally required to do, but Al does his best to be a nice guy in these situations). Her management failed to forward it to her, assuming she would hate it, so initially, Al had no recourse than to leak it to YouTube. Within days, the fan reaction ensured that news of the song got to Gaga, who found it “empowering”, and so now here we are. Was it worth all the effort? Hard to say. There’s no denying that it’s fun to hear one of Gaga’s glitziest dance-pop songs lampooned, with the lyrics calling out the Lady herself for her bizarre costumes and on-stage antics. I’ve been forced to admit that Gaga knows how to sink her teeth in hard with the hooks, and Weird Al’s band keeps pace in that department despite having to redo all the programming and stuff from scratch. The song takes some fun swipes at Gaga’s shock tactics (“I strap prime rib to my feet, cover myself with raw meat/I’ll bet you’ve never seen a skirt steak worn this way”), and even subtly implies that her “originality” owes a lot to Madonna (which isn’t so subtle in the video, which features the disturbingly hilarious image of Al’s head on a female dancer wearing all of the off-the-wall getsups mentioned in the song). At the end of the day, upon being told that Gaga’s kind of a freak, my reaction is mostly “Thank you, Captain Obvious”. There are lots of good jokes to crack that are based on that statement, but the subject felt like it was already well-worn by the time Al got to it.
Laugh-O-Meter: Not So Completely Original, But Still Amusing
The first of the “style parodies” that predated the actual album release by a good two years is this one, which takes the primal garage rock approach of The White Stripes and uses it to venerate the late actor Charles Nelson Reilly. Now I don’t know much about Reilly, but you really don’t have to in order to grasp that it’s really Weird Al’s version of “Chuck Norris facts”, as Al excitedly yelps about all of the ridiculous superhuman things that Reilly was supposedly capable of doing. It’s quite likely that Al was a personal fan and wanted to write a fitting larger-than-life eulogy for one of his favorite comedians, so one could imagine Reilly being complimented in some weird way by statements like “Charles Nelson Reilly won the Tour de France/With two flat tires and a missing chain” or “Once he fell off the Chrysler building/And he barely even stubbed his toe”. They’re mostly random non-sequiturs. One comment in particular is a bit unfortunate: “He made sweet, sweet love to a manatee.” Isn’t bestality a bit of a bawdy source of humor for Weird Al’s normally family friendly style, and is it wise to even joke about things in a day and age where prejudice still has the side effect of making a lot of people mentally associate homosexuality with any and all forms of sexual depravity. I’m just sayin’. Aside from all that, the music’s fun enough that I have to wonder if I didn’t give the Stripes a fair shake when they were still around.
The Laugh-O-Meter Says: Scattered Chuckles
Weird Al hadn’t really parodied a country artist in a while. And since he’s parodying Taylor Swift here, I guess he still hasn’t! (Oh, SNAP!) All joking aside, I will admit that the source material, “You Belong to Me”, is one of Swift’s catchier songs – not one that is impressive for any lyrical reason, but I’ll admit to liking her dual roles in the music video. Al’s version takes on the notorious celebrity gossip website TMZ, noting the general creepiness of their speed and accuracy when it comes to outing the various sordid details of the lives of people who are sometimes barely even remotely famous. It’s just as much of a satire of pop culture and our unhealthy obsession with schadenfreude (which has actually one of Al’s favorite subjects over the years), as it is a zinger aimed at the stupid exploits of various real-life celebrities, who will remain nameless – at least until someone mentions their name between *coughs* in the YouTube comments, I guess. The bridge is where the song hits its hilarious zenith: “It’s getting to the point where a famous person can’t/Even get a DUI, or go on a racist rant/Those guys are all around, so you really shouldn’t dare/Go to every club in town if you’ve lost your underwear.” So yeah, the media is kind of invasive, but then some celebrities sort of invite this stuff upon themselves, too. I like that Weird Al goes beyond simply making jokes and actually makes us stop to think about both sides here.
The Laugh-O-Meter Says: OMGROTFLOL
4. Skipper Dan
The deep, doo-woppy background vocals and the cute little two-note guitar riff that provide this song’s main hook, at least before it heads into grungier territory, are so goofy that I wouldn’t have thought Weird Al was basing them on the style of an actual, legitimate rock band. Turns out he’s channeling Weezer for this one, which I suppose makes sense, as they’re known for being alternative rock gods who don’t make any effort to hide their dorkiness. This is one of those songs where the joke sneaks in slowly – it starts off as what seems like a straight-faced story about an aspiring young actor at the top of his class, with big dreams… and then the chorus hits us with the punchline: He never got that big role and now he’s stuck working the “Jungle Cruise” ride at Disneyland. For anyone who’s ever been on the ride, you know the lame jokes those folks have to tell, and it makes perfect sense to wonder if they secretly roll their eyes upon having to say such stupid stuff for the 4,027th time. For those who haven’t been on the ride… yeah, this’ll probably sound like some sort of an in-joke that just makes no sense. I like anything that pokes fun at Disney’s self-styled “Happiest Place on Earth” status, because I know from having a family member who used to be employed there that it’s anything but for the employees. What’s interesting is that while a lot of Al’s jokes at this poor guy’s expense are genuinely funny, the song’s also relatable in a sad way, because let’s be honest, lots of us have gotten stuck doing pointless, menial jobs and wondering if our dreams have passed us by. So you have to be able to laugh at your own misfortune a bit to fully “get” this one.
The Laugh-O-Meter Says: Laughing Out Loud, But Crying Inside
5. Polka Face
No, this isn’t another Gaga parody, though it starts and ends by cribbing lines from her stuttering hit single. The title was just too good to pass up – this is the infamous “polka medley” that makes it onto every Weird Al album, using the dorkiest style of music possible to lampoon popular songs of the day, but with the lyrics kept almost fully intact. I’ll be honest – the polkas have had to grown on me more and more as I’ve gotten older, because on first listen, I’ll generally only know maybe 4 or 5 of the songs (and in this case, one of those was actually a sampling of a much older song – “Right Round” by um, that guy who stole the chorus from that Wedding Singer song). Not listening to the radio can do that to you. Still, imagine my glee upon discovering the perverse juxtaposition of, say, Katy Perry and Owl City. Almost every song featured here is cribbed from the worlds of hip-hop, R&B, and dance pop music you’d most likely hear in clubs, so it’s understandable that I’m almost completely out of touch with this culture. Sometimes that adds to the laughter, as I have to wonder whether the original songs are truly that inane, or whether Al took liberties with the lyrics. (Alright, so he did with Ke$ha. “Tik Tok” sure sounds a lot funnier with the words “But the polka don’t stop” and yodeling at the end of the chorus!) At the same time, I’m forced to admit that some of the people who originally sang such idiotic lyrics came up with insidiously memorable melodies for them – case in point, Britney Spears‘ “Womanizer”. Is it hypocritical of me to sing along gleefully with this nerdy concoction while criticizing most of the original artists for their perversion of pop music? Probably. Do I care all that much? Not really.
The Laugh-O-Meter Says: It Feels So Wrong, It Feels So Right
The style parodies are where Al gets to be as old-school as he wants, and can completely buck current musical trends. Consequently, they’re the only moments on the album where actual rock music gets spoofed. This time around it’s the psychedelic rock of The Doors, which apparently is a difficult thing to make funny. That might be because it generally lends itself to sparse or just plain non-sequitur lyrics, more so than great jokes that build one on top of the other up to some big punchline. But Al’s trying his best to capture the swagger of Jim Morrison while rambling about his exploits on Craigslist. I’ll be honest, I thought this was a bad idea from the start, because he already did a song about eBay for Poodle Hat, and he more or less captured everything that was funny about Internet auctions and the weird crap people feel the need to buy and sell with that one. What’s left to do here? Well, to be fair, while it starts off rather ho-hum with a used car ad, it quickly gets weirder with the second verse, which mocks those uncomfortable personal ads that Craigslist was really never supposed to have been about in the first lace, then it just plunges headlong into the inane when he starts going on about a guy trying to give away a trashcan full of styrofoam peanuts. if you like sheer randomness more than silly puns, this might be up your alley. The chorus basically just takes up space without adding to the humor, as it’s just Al wailing “I’m on CRAAAAAAAAAAAIGSLIIIIIIIIIST!” over and over. It doesn’t do all that much for me, but hey, that keyboard player sure is doing a good job mimicking the fancy organ solos from classic Doors songs! (OK, turns out it’s Ray Manarek, who actually originated a lot of those classic solos as a member of The Doors in the first place.)
The Laugh-O-Meter Says: No Tip For You!
7. Party in the CIA
Now this one is just made of WIN. You can’t possibly go wrong while singing about the covert affairs of bad-@$$ spies, especially when set to the jaunty teenybopper pop of Miley Cyrus. (I believe this marks the first time Al has parodied both a parent and their child, since he goofed on Billy Ray Cyrus with “Achy Breaky Song” back in the day.) The cliche-loaded, unimaginative “Party in the USA”, with its inane “like yeah”s and its repetitive shout-outs to musicians like Jay-Z who are apparently supposed to give Miley some sort of street cred, turns out to be the perfect vehicle for what might just be a keen bit of satire on Al’s part. On the surface, it seems to be glorifying these shadowy figures in suits and ties who go out and do the dirty work. But as Al casually tosses off remarks like “Want a quickie confession? We’ll start a waterboarding session!”, I can tell he’s keenly aware of how outsiders view U.S. foreign policy. I highly doubt it’s intended to make a grand political statement – Al generally just revels in turning uncomfortable situations into another source of humor. But I defy you to find a funnier – or yes, I’ll admit it catchier – three minute slice of song parody goodness that’s come out between “White and Nerdy” and now.
The Laugh-O-Meter Says: Busting a Gut, Like Yeah
Here’s another one of those “originals” that sounds too cartoonish to be based on anything real, but only proves how little of my classic rock history I actually know. Weird Al’s double-dipping into the Queen canon here (after first giving us the “Bohemian Polka” all those years ago), co-opting the more upbeat side of theatrical 70’s rock-and-roll for a song that is paradoxical for the same reason as “Craiglist”: Old music that describes relatively recent technology. In this case, a man’s embarrassed by a stupid ringtone that he bought, yet he still loves it enough to not get rid of it, despite the personal harm that will come to him as pretty much everyone in the world expresses their overt irritation. For the most part, once you’ve reached the main punchline, that’s really all there is too the funny, aside from the “fridge logic” observation that comes up later when you realize the guy’s too cheap to waste $1.99, and yet he seems to not mind the consequence of his iPhone getting smashed with a brick by his own wife. The laundry list of folks from all walks of life who hate his ringtone (“Chinese factory workers/Muslim women in burkas/Starving kids in Angola/Even folks with Ebola!”) helps to give the song a little more life as it drags on to its conclusion (which is even funnier in the animated video – even the Obamas want to give him a smackdown). Part of me wants to be ironic and actually make this song my ringtone, but I don’t think anyone but me would appreciate the irony.
The Laugh-O-Meter Says: Let It Go to Voice Mail
9. Another Tattoo
One of my biggest pet peeves about pop culture is how you get these occasional “sensitive songs” from the rap/hip-hop types, that sound nice enough to make female fans swoon on the surface, but when you look deeper at them, they’re actually pretty superficial. “Nothing on You”, a collaboration between B.O.B. and Bruno Mars, is the poster child for this syndrome, because on the surface it’s saying, “You’re the beautifulest girl in the whole wide world”, it also heavily implies that the guy’s met so many beautiful girls all over the place that they’re more or less a dime a dozen. Weird Al’s derived his fair share of humor from fake love songs that are really just a bunch of backhanded compliments in the past… but here, he sort of misses an opportunity by instead describing the utter hilarity of a guy who wants every inch of his skin covered by tattoos. Sure, he gets to construct another amusing laundry list of the ridiculous things people get permanently inscribed on their bodies, and the myriad rhymes he builds out of these lists (“Over here is Clay Aiken/There’s a side of bacon/And I’m in a torpedo fight with Satan/Next to Hello Kitty and a zombie ice skating/Wait… it’s Ronald Reagan!”). But at the end of the day, this is less funny for the actual subject matter, and more funny for how Weird Al, as his own backing vocalist, covers the crooning Bruno Mars part and the B.O.B. “hype man” parts with pinpoint accuracy. I’m guessing this’ll be difficult to perform live.
The Laugh-O-Meter Says: Not So Indelible After All
10. If That Isn’t Love
OK, so Al’s habit of writing backhanded compliment love songs that I mentioned above? He tries that here, only to fail with one of the unfunniest songs I can remember Al writing in a long time. Poodle Hat had some stinkers, but none as painful as this attempt to do his buddies in Hanson (seriously, they’ve performed together) a solid with this apparent riff on their style. (Minus the scratchy vocals that happen when teenybopper singers grow up. That’s your future beckoning, Justin Bieber!) The premise is solid enough – over an innocuous, bouncy piano-pop beat, Al delivers a list of promises that would sound like the nicest things a guy could do for a girl… if the guy was a completely lazy, self-centered pig. “Every time I see you trying to lift some really heavy thing/You can always count on me to help by saying something encouraging” is one of the more amusing ones, as well as “I totally support every idiotic thing you do/And I almost never pretend you’re someone else when I’m making out with you.” I think those were the two lines I chuckled at. Most of the rest of it ranges from mundane (“I’ll kiss you even if you have omelettes for breakfast/And I can’t stand omelettes”) to painful (the first verse hits us with “You’ll know I’ll always have your back/I’ll even let you warm your freezing hands inside my butt crack”). The chorus is repetitive and filled with “na na na”s, basically boiling down to two lines: “If that isn’t love, I don’t know what love is.” If not A, then not B, and we’ve satisfied the “not A” condition, so… yeah. Not a particularly hilarious revelation, and not one worth repeating ad nauseum. Repetition generally kills comedy, and Al is usually better about avoiding this by changing up lyrics when he comes back around to the chorus. He really dropped the ball here.
The Laugh-O-Meter Says: Try Not to Yawn
11. Whatever You Like
Weird Al’s rap parodies usually rank among his best work. There are simply a lot more lyrics wedged in there for him to mess around with. When this song (a parody of an idiotically materialistic song by T.I. by the same name) was first released in 2008, it was timely – the economy was just starting to go down the toilet (as mentioned in this version’s intro), and Al figured the time was ripe to get something recorded quickly and get it out there while the song it was based on was still hot, and the issue still relevant. He succeeded with flying colors, as this one is a much better entry in the “crappy boyfriend” department, frequently making shout-outs to cheap discount stores, knock-off items, fast food places, etc., that are easy to mock but that I think most of us can admit we’d turn to in a pinch when the money got tight. His grandiose promises that “My chick can have what she wants/At Wal-Mart she can pick out anything that she wants” are funny precisely because a lot of the ladies probably know what it’s like to date a cheapskate who thinks he’s spoiling them, and a lot of the guys have probably felt that tension between a tight wallet and wanting to treat their girl right. I can laugh at it because I can laugh at myself, and in a crap economy, this was a great way to blow off some steam. What’s it doing on an album released almost three years later? Well, this way, at least it ended up on an album at all (unlike past Weird Al singles such as “Headline News” that were left to float in the ether, before there was even an Internet). It’s one of the funniest things on Alpocalypse, and I should be kind of irritated by that fact, but then again, the novelty of this one still hasn’t worn off years after the fact. It’s still relevant and still fun to play for folks.
The Laugh-O-Meter Says: You Can Laugh as Loud as You Like
12. Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me
This album most definitely ends strong. The closing track is usually where Al truly goes off the deep end with something long, rambling, and likely to be a fan favorite among the hardcore while the rest of the audience considers it a tough taste to acquire (see “Albuquerque” for starters), but this one instead follows in the grand tradition of “Don’t Download This Song” by highlighting another aspect of netiquette that’s caused much consternation ever since our grandmothers all got Email: annoying forwards. You know the type. I’ll just let Al describe it: “No, it isn’t okay if you brighten my day/With some cut and pasted hackneyed Hallmark poetry.” “No, I don’t want a bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul.” “You’re sending virus-laden bandwidth-hogging attachments/To every single person you know/You’re passing around a link to some dumb thing on YouTube/That everybody else already saw three years ago.” Pretty much everything he describes here has caused me to roll my eyes at least thrice since I first saw it (and honestly, was guilty of passing some of it along myself) back in the mid 90’s, and it’s made even more hilarious by the fact that Al picked a purposefully outdated, sensitive guy piano ballad sort of style that kicks into theatrical high gear when a background choir chimes in for that “charity song” sort of feeling, making it feel like the very lives of starving children depend on your ability to restrain yourself from forwarding crap to him. (Or at least figuring out how to Bcc! Funny because it’s so painfully true.) Between this, “Don’t Download This Song”, “Virus Alert”, and “It’s All About the Pentiums”, we can only deduce that Al spends way too much time on the Internet. If you think “crap” is a naughty word, you probably won’t appreciate it being sung with glee roughly thirty times here, but for the rest of us, it’s quite cathartic.
The Laugh-O-Meter Says: LOL So Funny! Send to Every1 U Know!
WHAT’S IT WORTH TO ME?
Perform This Way $1
Skipper Dan $1
Polka Face $1
Party in the CIA $2
Another Tattoo $.50
If That Isn’t Love -$.50
Whatever You Like $1.50
Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me $1.50
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF:
Originally published on Epinions.com.