McGinnis: Weird Al’s new album delivers solid entry in a career of laughsWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s been a lot of discussion and analysis of how “Weird Al” Yankovic, over 30 years into his career as pop’s most prolific and successful satirist, has achieved his first ever No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with his newest (and possibly last physical) album, “Mandatory Fun.” The brilliant viral campaign of videos which hit the week the album dropped, the timely nature of the parodies chosen, a sense of nostalgia from modern fans who had lapsed from Yanko-mania and more have been cited.
But for all the talk, an important factor is being glossed over: The fact is, “Mandatory Fun” is simply a very good, consistently listenable album which is very, very funny. It is not Al’s best work, but it may be the one made most perfectly for the time in which it was released. Deftly spanning genres and subject matter (how many chart-topping records cover both grammar Nazis, sports anthems and aluminum foil — in consecutive songs, no less?), Yankovic’s latest demonstrates his mastery of sending up pop in all its forms.
It is a general truism among Yankovic fans that though he is known best for his parodies, the original songs on his albums are actually superior in most cases. Though everyone knows “Eat It” from “In 3-D” back in 1984, it pales in comparison to “Midnight Star” and “Nature Trail to Hell” on the same record. But in the case of “Mandatory Fun,” the reverse is actually true — the record’s parodies are the undeniable high point, while the originals, though still funny, aren’t quite up to the level of his all-time classics (with one notable exception).
Leading off with a deft turn on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” turning it into a revelry on the subject of craftsmen the world over, the album’s send-ups land well at every turn. The Lorde parody, “Foil,” is a short but sweet ode to food preservation and conspiracy theorists, while “Inactive” takes the haunting beats of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” and makes it a sweeping tribute to a lazy guy who can’t be bothered to move.
The album’s attention-grabber, “Word Crimes,” may feature some of Al’s best lyric writing ever, transforming Robin Thicke’s ubiquitous (and controversial) “Blurred Lines” into a rant by a character on how proper grammar is being discarded in this day and age. Al’s artistry of being able to transform his subject in such a way that the words still feel natural even in decidedly unnatural environments such as Thicke’s hit continually demonstrate how amazingly underrated Yankovic is as a songwriter.
Stacked against the amazing quality of the send-ups, the original pieces on “Mandatory Fun” don’t pack quite the same punch. “Lame Claim to Fame,” about reveling in near-brushes with the noteworthy, is fun, as is Al’s first attempt at a marching band piece, “Sports Song” (which is guaranteed to be played by plenty of real-life marching bands in the years to come). But “Mission Statement,” a Crosby, Stills and Nash emulation, is more of a clever idea than a really funny song, and “First World Problems” doesn’t hit on a musical level as strongly as much of Al’s work.
But at the end of the album is an absolute masterpiece. It’s usually a home run when Al makes the mundane epic — as in his classic ode “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” — and this installment’s closer, “Jackson Park Express,” is right up there with his best. A rambling Cat Stevens-style tale of two strangers on a cross town bus who communicate volumes without saying a word (at least, that’s what the guy thinks), the song delivers the album’s biggest laughs and best writing, both in music and lyrics. Superb.
The popular narrative in the media’s discussion of the wild success of “Mandatory Fun” is to talk about Yankovic’s “resurgence,” as if Al has been missing for the last 10 years-plus. This demonstrates pop culture’s short attention span more than anything. Al’s been making great music for decades, and his last album, “Alpocalypse,” found plenty of success through its Lady Gaga parody “Perform This Way.” Far from being a career renaissance, the success of “Mandatory Fun” shows that culture has finally caught back up with Yankovic, not the other way around. Don’t call it a comeback. He’s been here for years. And he’s as funny as ever.
Tags: "Eat It", Alpocalypse, aluminum foil, First World Problems, grammar Nazis, In 3-D, Jeff McGinnis, Lame Claim to Fame, Mandatory Fun, Midnight Star, Mission Statement, Nature Trail to Hell, Pop Goes the Culture, sports anthems, Sports Song, Weird Al Yankovic, Word Crimes