Familiarity is, as they tend to say, the breeder of contempt which makes life much harder for the career of a part-time professional parodist. And so it is double-trouble for Weird Al Yankovic. His latest, Alpocalypse, has to work with songs you know, at least part of the time. While you want to appreciate his take on the Gaga phenomena, “Perform This Way” is just a drag without the video accompanying it. And while he got a lot of mileage out of the controversy/non-controversy about Gaga’s allowance/non-allowance of the parody’s release, it hardly seems worth the sweat.
Another issue I have is that, for the first time I can readily recall, Al is using the song to comment on the artist that did it. Ordinarily, the tune and the subject aren’t so interlocked, so the collusion of the two here does not seem to result in harmless fun. Al kind of sounds like he’s trying to take Gaga down a peg, and while I can’t say I’m a “little monster” by any conceivable stretch, oddly I am sympathetic to her at the moment.
Other tracks fare better, and you can’t fault his backing band that, again and again, proves their talent by showing up others. After all, Al does a lot of stuff that is “style parody,” unspecific songs intentionally designed to evoke an artist’s style, and it is crucial that the band nails it or else the joke has no legs. They continue, after all this time, to nail it, drop it in the hole, and kick the dirt on top. Jack White may have formidable blues-rock chops, but the inidious White Stripes take “CNR” (presumably meaning Charles Nelson Reilly?) is strong enough to let you know who they’re channeling.
And yet the new collection doesn’t hold together as well as the previous Straight Outta Lynwood, or several of his earlier discs, and I think I know why. Al, like so many artists, flirted with the notion of not making albums anymore, instead just releasing songs directly to iTunes and Amazon and cutting out the dead weight in the middle. How it wound up that he would go back to the unified format is unknown to me, but I have my suspicions.
Record companies sell their songs individually through those markets. That hasn’t changed and, if anything, it has become more imperative. Yet the album acts like an advertisement that can be pasted up and plastered around to shout out a product’s existence, even if people aren’t inclined to buy more than installments of it. I can see Al making a choice to go all-singles, but not being able to have the record label go along with it. This is, however, purely speculation on my part.
What is not speculation is that half this disc has been previously released in just the way I described, as digital singles. For those who have not heard those songs yet, no harm, no foul, and no pesky familiarity. However, if you’ve been following along all this time, there is a sense of having already heard the joke, and it brings Alpocalypse down. “Party in the C.I.A.” has already lost its freshness, and “Craigslist,” well; I’ve never been a fan of The Doors, so that was damned from the start. Ray Manzarek does the keyboards on the track — doesn’t change my mind, though.
Or maybe I’ve finally outgrown Weird Al, which just makes me sad thinking about it. I like him and what he does, and the fact that every generation seems to get the Al they need, but I don’t know if I’m one of them anymore.
Alpocalypse is available from Amazon.com.