Just forget the words and sing along

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Time for Mandatory Fun!

That magical day when I met "Weird Al" Yankovic at the Capital X in 2007.

It's that wonderful time that comes around every 3 or 4  years...the time when those three little words are uttered that bring me so much joy.

Mark's getting laid!  New Weird Al!

"Weird Al" Yankovic is out today with his brand new album, Mandatory Fun.  There's already been a lot of pre-release hype around this album, mainly due to the fact that this marks the end of Weird Al's record contract.  Some interpreted that to mean that Weird Al is retiring, but he's disputed that in many interviews already.  If anything, he's one of the artists who think that the end of the traditional record contract is right around the corner, and everything's going digital from here on out.  Weird Al has been grumbling for a while now that he'll be going to an all-digital distribution model.  It'll allow him to be more timely and topical with his parodies.  And besides, his main competition these days are the billions of parodies that pop up on YouTube shortly after a song becomes a hit, while he's sitting around, twiddling his thumbs, amassing an album's worth of material.

Of course I pre-ordered the album on Amazon.  I rarely pre-order stuff months in advance, but a new Weird Al album is one of those exceptions.  I even paid the extra shipping to have it delivered the day it comes out.  So, since it comes out today, you'll understand my confusion when I got the alert from Amazon last Wednesday that it had shipped.  "I'm not going to get it early, am I?"

And sure enough, look what the friendly UPS guy delivered on Friday.

Needless to say, I was excited.  I texted my friends right away to share the good news.  "Dude!  Now rip it and leak it to the Internet!" one of my friends joked.  Although, as I started going through the tracks and sharing some of the lyrics with my friend, he changed his tune to, "Umm...I was just kidding.  But if you do want to rip it and send it to me...."  But nope.  I decided not to ruin the surprise for the world.

That being said, I did have the entire weekend to sit down, listen to it, and pick it apart.  So now that it's the official release date, time to share my thoughts on Mandatory Fun!

Mandatory Fun album cover

"Weird Al" Yankovic - Mandatory Fun

Track Listing

1)  Handy (parody of Fancy by Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX)

Weird Al made headlines on the gossip sites a few weeks ago when he chatted with Iggy Azalea after one of her concerts a few weeks ago to get her permission to parody one of her songs.  And now, the fruit of the meeting.  Azalea's rap about the finer things in life because a tune about a handyman bragging about his skills.  First impressions were that this is common ground for Weird Al.  See "The Plumbing Song" from 1992's Off the Deep End.  It induced big smiles, but no belly laughs.

2)  Lame Claim to Fame

The first style parody of the album.  I can't place my finger on who's style he's mimicking, but it's maddeningly familiar.  Our narrator is boasting of all the many brushes with fame he's had over the years.  Things like once using the same napkin dispenser as Steve Carrell.  A great homage to the lengths people go to sound greater than they are.

3)  Foil (parody of Royals of Lorde)

Lorde's tune about desiring the finer things in life becomes a tribute to aluminum foil, as the singer discovers that his favourite way to wrap up leftovers can be used as a stylish hat to keep the CIA from stealing his brainwaves.  Much like the first parody, it gave a few chuckles.

4)  Sports Song

Weird Al turns his attention to every football fight song ever, as he details all the different ways they're going to defeat the other team.  The constant refrain of "You Suck!" seems to sum up every sports fan I've ever known.  This was a good one.

5)  Word Crimes (parody of Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke ft. T.I. and Pharrell Williams)

What better use for Blurred Lines than to make it an ode to grammar Nazis, as our narrator insults your spelling and teaches you the difference between "its" and "it's."  The grammar Nazi is an Internet phenomenon that's ripe for spoof, but this doesn't go as far as it could have.

6)  My Own Eyes

Typical Weird Al absurdity as a man describes all the weird stuff he's seen "with [his] own eyes."  A worthy companion to tunes like You Make Me and Everything You Know is Wrong.  Another style parody that's maddeningly familiar...it's definitely punk of some kind.

7)  NOW That's What I Call Polka!

Ah, the good ol' polka medley.  It's impossible to be in a bad mood while listening to a Weird Al polka medley.  As a co-worker pointed out, sometimes, when Weird Al does a polka version of a song, the song comes out sounding better.  Some of the tunes that made the cut this time are Wrecking Ball, Gangnam Style, Call Me Maybe, Somebody That I Used to Know, Sexy And I Know It, Thrift Shop, and Get Lucky.  Always an album highlight.

8)  Mission Statement

Probably the cleverest one on the album.  An endless (and probably meaningless) string of corporate buzzwords and biz speak gets turned into a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young-style ballad.  Again, the joke here is the contrast between the subject mater and the music style, and it's sweet.  And someone please tell me the CSNY song he samples for the final 45 seconds because the name of that song is on the tip of my tongue and I just can't place it! 

9)  Inactive (parody of Radioactive by Imagine Dragons)

A man describing his sedentary lifestyle in excruciating detail.  This guy just won't get off his couch for anything.  This one elicits more groans than chuckles, but they're the good kind of groans. 

10)  First World Problems

Common Weird Al comedy fodder is someone lamenting a trivial problem happening to him while genuine horrors unfold around him.  For good examples, see One of Those Days and Why Does This Always Happen to Me, so when I first saw the title First World Problems I knew it was going to be along those lines.  I did have to rip this one and send it my aforementioned friend, because he's a huge Pixies fan and I had to get confirmation that Weird Al was riffing on Pixies in this one.  And my friend said, "Yup."  Just a solid entry as our narrator laments he doesn't have any bills small enough to tip his valet and that he has to buy extra stuff on Amazon to get the free shipping.  Ooo, and multitalented singer/songwriter/artist Amanda Palmer does some guest vocals on this one! 

11)  Tacky (parody of Happy by Pharrell Williams)

Every tacky thing a person can do gets rolled into this song.  Boasting about your hideous wardrobe, Instagramming your food, saying YOLO...you  name it.  Something tells me that this is a dig at hipsters, as most of what Weird Al describes in the song does sound like a hipster.  One you'll no doubt try to sing along to.

12)  Jackson Park Express

Following in the grand tradition of Albuquerque, here's our 10-minute long album closer.  There's a 1970s folk-rock feel going on with this one.  A man and a woman spot each other on the bus (the Jackson Park Express of the title), and every sideways glance, polite cough, and facial tick gets elevated into this epic flirting relationship.  But of course, the flirting is typical of Weird Al, with lines like, "I would make any sacrifice for you.  Goat...chicken...whatever" and "You're my answer to everything, which is why I'll probably do poorly on my driver's test."  I hereby nominated "I want you inside me like a tapeworm" as the most sexually explicit line Weird Al has ever sung.  While nothing will ever top the epic awesomeness of Albuquerque, this is pretty good.

Final Thoughts 

This is a pretty solid Weird Al album.  However, it doesn't seem to reach the same heights as his last two, Straight Outta Lynwood and Alpocalypse.  Maybe it's because with those ones I was more familiar with the artists in his style parodies.  It's good, but not as great as it could have been.  That being said, I'll still be cranking it up for the rest of the summer.

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