New Yankovic album another chapter of hilarity.Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In a world where the expiration date on pop artists is just a hair longer than Andy Warhol’s proverbial 15 minutes, Weird Al Yankovic’s 30-year longevity is remarkable. It’s also simple to understand: He’s very, very good at what he does. Maybe the best. For fans of “novelty” music, a passion for Weird Al seems to be common ground. Al’s ability to digest and emulate a wide variety of styles and artists, from a wide variety of eras, means that no matter what kind of music you love, Al has you covered.
Consider his new album, “Alpocalypse.” The CD’s parodies include the usual smattering of takeoffs on modern performers, from Taylor Swift to T.I., from Miley Cyrus to, of course, Lady Gaga. But then consider his original songs, which most Al connoisseurs consider his best work. Here, Yankovic’s musical stylings emulate such diverse influences as Jim Morrison, Weezer, Queen, Meat Loaf and more.
Each of these songs can be enjoyed on its own merits, for the inventiveness of Al’s lyrics and music. But once you catch on to what he’s doing, and how each song throws in small digs at and tributes to the artists he is needling, a whole new level of appreciation opens up. Yankovic’s work appeals greatly to young audiences, but the adults listening can get even more out of it, as long as they are paying attention.
Like “Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me,” his epic album-closer inspired by the works of Jim Steinman. On a surface level, the song is a tremendous piece of observational humor digging at all sorts of obnoxious email forwards (“your quotes from George Carlin aren’t really George Carlin”), one which anyone can relate to. Then you notice how pitch-perfect his emulation of Steinman’s musical stylings are, up to and including overpowering piano backups and endlessly repeated refrains. (After the title has been sung ten times in a row, Al adds, “At the risk of being slightly repetitious … ”)
But the needling is never mean-spirited or cruel, which explains Al’s popularity among his fellow musicians. Most consider it a great honor to be the target of a Yankovic parody. (Some, like Kurt Cobain, said they knew they had made it when they were featured.) “Craigslist,” this album’s lovingly styled parody of The Doors, even features keyboard work from original member Ray Manzarek.
Oddly, the least successful song on the album is the one which has drawn the most attention —the Lady Gaga parody “Perform This Way.” Despite the quasi-controversy about the track leading up to its release, the song itself doesn’t have a lot of insight into the Gaga phenomenon beyond the fact that she dresses funny. I kept expecting a verse to address how much the track sounds like Madonna’s “Express Yourself” or something. Nothing on the level of Al’s hilarious and biting “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” or even “Smells Like Nirvana.”
But the rest of the parodies more than pick up the slack. The Swift satire “TMZ” takes hilarious aim at the culture of celebrity trash-digging, while not letting the stars themselves entirely off the hook. (“It’s getting to the point where a famous person can’t/Get a DUI or go on a racist rant.”) Cyrus parody “Party in the CIA” marries its artist’s youthful naivete with a delightfully incongruous subject. And Al’s version of T.I.’s “Whatever You Want” takes aim at pretending to live large when “our economy is in the toilet.”
If there’s a problem with the album, it’s only that we’ve heard some of these tracks before, as five of the songs were released two years ago on the web-only EP “Internet Leaks.” Al fans who picked that up will get only seven new songs, but when the quality of said tracks is so high, that’s not a major problem — especially if one springs for the album’s deluxe version, which features full animated music videos for ten of the songs. And I don’t mind having the older songs again, now that they’ve been put in their proper place as a whole release. (As a theater major, “Skipper Dan” is a big and disquietingly on-target favorite.)
Yankovic is an artist — yes, an artist — who deserves more respect than he gets from a lot of pop culture sources. Many feel they can write him off as a novelty, but novelties don’t get three decades of staying power. His fans remain loyal, with new ones added each musical generation. And it’s undeniable that many of his parodies — stylistic and otherwise — age much better than the songs they emulate. “Alpocalypse” is another fun chapter in one of the most unfairly unsung musical careers in modern history.
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.