Well this is new huh? How many nerd websites do you see reviewing albums? Not many, that’s for sure. But let’s be honest, this not just ANY music artist… this is “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC! There’s not a nerd on this earth that doesn’t owe at least a little bit of their nerdiness to the King of Parody. I remember the first time I ever heard Weird Al. I was 12 years old and I was hanging out with my friend Russel. We were in his living room playing Wave Race on N64 and Russ looks at me and says, “You wanna listen to Weird Al?” I replied, “Um… YEAH! Totally!” I had no clue who he was talking about but I didn’t want him to realize how out of touch I was. (In retrospect, it’s kind of ironic that I didn’t want Russ to think I wasn’t cool because I didn’t know who Weird Al was…)
So, Russ pops in his “Bad Hair Day” CD and “Amish Paradise” starts up. I thought to myself, “I’ve heard this song on the radio…”, but then the lyrics started and I thought, “Nope. Not the same song. What is this?” It slowly dawned on me that this was parody. Now, at the time I had no idea what parody was, but I got the humor of taking something serious and creating something funny, or silly, out of it. My life was changed forever. When I got home I asked my dad to buy me the album and I wore. it. OUT. Being an adolescent nerd, Weird Al’s music became a huge part of who I was and, in many ways, helped shaped my sense of humor. He uses absurdity and misdirection when writing his songs and so I grew into using that in just my everyday life to be make people laugh. Difference is, he’s made a living off it and I’ve been giving that s–t away for free. I’m such an amateur.
I continued following Weird Al’s albums and during his Poodle Hat-era tour he came to Nashville, where I live, ON MY BIRTHDAY. It couldn’t have been more perfect right? Well, my little brother won 4th row seats on a radio contest and opted to take his best friend instead of his own brother on his birthday. I was major bummed. BUT… my cousin came to the rescue! She hooked me up with box seats that she got through her work. Hey, who needs 4th row seats when you got free Pepsi and mixed nuts! It was one of the best birthday’s I’ve ever had.
On Tuesday, Al released “Mandatory Fun”, his 13th studio album (not counting the Peter and the Wolf album he did in ’88), and I haven’t stopped listening to it. I’m a stay-at-home dad so I just turn it on an put it on repeat. My kids will randomly start dancing around the kitchen and living room whenever a song comes on that they like. I’ve wept many joyful, nerd-dad tears.
The album kicks off with “Handy” and parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”, and delightfully strolls through the next 11 songs with Al’s typical quirkiness and bizarre sense of humor. There are tracks that you could say seem out of place, the best example would be “Sports Song” which is a parody of college sports fight songs, but really, with Al, nothing is out of place. Even when something seems completely inconsistent with the rest of the album, you just have to accept that it’s like that on purpose. There’s no specific shape or form to Al’s projects and “Mandatory Fun” doesn’t break that tradition. You can listen to the tracks in order, or kick on the shuffle option and jump around, either way, you’re getting the same experience. That’s almost more brilliant than the artists who slave over getting their tracks in the perfect order so that it flows only one specific direction from beginning to end. Al just makes songs that flow together no matter what order they’re in.
Another thing that dawned on me as I’ve been listening to the album, is that Weird Al has evolved with his fan-base. While there are still songs here that I think your average 10 year old kid will get a kick out of (“Tacky” comes to mind as one), the majority of the humor here is mature. Not “mature” as is “explicit” or “foul”, “mature” as in “older”, less juvenile than in the past. When I first showed Weird Al to my little bother, who was 7 at the time, he absolutely loved songs like”Phony Calls” and “Bedrock Anthem”. Those songs were silly and funny and the humor made sense to him. My 7 year old son, however, hasn’t noticed anything more than that the songs are silly versions of other songs he already listens to. A 7 year old is going to understand the humor in making prank phone calls more they understand why it’s funny that some people have misplaced pride in their mediocre celebrity-connection stories (“Lame Claim to Fame”). As adults, we understand the satire in that song because we all know people (or ARE people) with really terrible stories about some weak connection they have to a D-list celebrity. (I once had dinner at Steak ‘n’ Shake with MC Hammer. Swear to god, that’s a true story.)
My favorite song on the album, by far, is “Word Crimes”, a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”. The whole song is about people using poor grammar and it’s utterly brilliant. I feel like every school in America should utilize that song in their English classes (Yes, I’m almost certain that somewhere in this article I used poor grammar myself but at least I didn’t pull an E.E. Cummings on you and leave out punctuation and capitalization altogether so be happy with what you got). Another strong track is “Foil”, a parody of Lorde’s “Royals”. It stars out as a sort-of-commercial for aluminum foil and then takes a hard left into the ravings of a mad conspiracy theorist. It’s pure genius.
Additionally, over at his website www.weirdal.com, Al is currently releasing a new music video from the album every day for 8 days. So far, videos for “Word Crimes” and “Foil” have been released, as well as one for “Tacky”, a parody of Pharell’s “Happy”, and just this morning he debuted the video for “Handy”.
If you’re already a serious Weird Al fan (that sounds strange to say), you’re gonna get this album. You have to. You have all the others and you don’t want an incomplete collection. If you’re more of a casual fan, I’d say it’s still definitely worth downloading a few of the tracks, including the polka medley “NOW That’s What I Call Polka!”. He does one of these on every album and they are always amazing. Also, if you have kids, it’s totally worth grabbing this record. Lets keep the legacy of Weird Al alive in our kids.