Let’s face it, ”Weird Al” Yankovic albums are impervious to typical reviews — you either appreciate his song and style parodies, or there’s something wrong with you. (”He who is tired of Weird Al’ is tired of life,” to quote Homer Simpson.)
That said, it would be hard for anyone to deny that Al’s latest effort, ”Mandatory Fun,” continues the late-career renaissance that began with 2006’s ”Straight Outta Lynwood.” (A run only slightly outmatched by the actual Renaissance.) He may not cover a lot of new ground, but as this track-by-track rundown shows, Yankovic is as Al as ever. I’ll try not to overuse the word ”brilliant,” but it will be hard.
1) ”Handy” (parody of Iggy Azalea’s ”Fancy”). Some of Al’s best songs have taken the form of commercials — I’ve always been partial to ”King of Suede,” probably because of my family history with haberdashery — and his latest, featuring a handyman pleading for clients to ”Let me glue dat, glue dat, and screw dat, screw dat,” preserves his pitchman tradition beautifully. ****
2) ”Lame Claim to Fame” (style parody of Southern Culture on the Skids). The concept, skewering people who insist on playing up tenuous connections to celebrities, gets old kind of fast. But it’s worth sticking out for the references to Kevin Bacon and YouTube video commenters. ***
3) ”Foil” (parody of Lorde’s ”Royals”). Not only the best tribute to aluminum foil ever, but the best one possible. And I dare you not to laugh out loud when you realize where the mid-song shift in direction is going. ****
4) ”Sports Song” (parody of every college fight song ever). I’m usually not a big fan of the phrase ”You suck!”, but if there was ever a perfect context for it, this song is it. *****
5) ”Word Crimes” (parody of Robin Thicke’s ”Blurred Lines”). Al simply annihilates the original, a mess of misogynistic claptrap, by meticulously replacing it with a brilliant (there, I said it) plea for proper grammar and usage that will immediately become every editor and English teacher’s favorite. Somewhere, Strunk and White are smiling. *****
6) ”My Own Eyes” (style parody of the Foo Fighters). It always feels like Al’s coasting when he falls back on a series of random and gross scenarios, and this litany of horrible sights he wishes he could unsee — ”I saw a naked vagrant giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to his cat; I probably could have gone my whole life without seeing that” — falls into that category. That said, it would work pretty well as an actual Foo Fighters song. **
7) ”NOW That’s What I Call Polka!” Al’s polka medleys never, ever get old. The only problem with them is that they’re too short — if he put out an album-length polka medley, frankly, I would listen. And as usual, this one (featuring the likes of ”Gangnam Style,” ”Wrecking Ball” and ”Get Lucky”) improves on every single song he includes. A million stars. Oh, OK: *****
8) ”Mission Statement” (style parody of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). Anyone’s who’s ever had to sit through a business meeting on ”corporate synergy” and ”promoting viability” will appreciate these four minutes of business-babble filtered through CSN&Y harmonies, especially when it goes all Judy Blue Eyes at the end. ****
9) ”Inactive” (parody of Imagine Dragons’ ”Radioactive”). This ode to couch potatoes has its moments — ”I really hate this show (but) I can’t reach my remote control” — but Al’s trod this ground before, and the original song is so boring even he can’t completely turn it around. ***
10) ”First World Problems” (style parody of the Pixies). Unlike the weird ramblings of ”My Own Eyes,” this song laying out upper middle class tragedies (”I can’t remember which car I drove to the mall”) features things you have ACTUALLY SAID. You know who you are. *****
11) ”Tacky” (parody of Pharrell’s ”Happy”). If there’s one thing Al knows, it’s tacky — and the fact that, thanks to the Internet, we know there are actually people out there who do these things (”I would live Tweet a funeral, take selfies with the deceased”) proves that Al remains the right commentator for these odd times of ours. ****
12) ”Jackson Park Express” (style parody of Cat Stevens). A nine-minute unspoken conversation between two bus passengers, it covers every aspect of human relationships, from intoxicating deodorants to wanting to wear the other person’s skin over your skin (”but not in a creepy way”). Genius. *****
Read more Pete at Pete’s Pop Culture, Parenting and Pets Blog.