By Brandon HENSLEY
If you’re a fan of popular culture and you use the Internet on a regular basis, there’s a pretty good chance “Weird Al” Yankovic invaded your life these past couple of weeks.
The king of song parodies unleashed a blitzkrieg style of marketing this month for his new album “Mandatory Fun” when he debuted one music video a day for eight days on various websites. It’s his 14th – and last – studio album. Yankovic has completed a decades-long contract and said he will think differently about how to release new material in the future.
If this is his last hoorah in the conventional album sense, critics and fans have welcomed Yankovic’s new songs with open arms. But how much of “Mandatory Fun” really is a good time? “Weird Al” has been making novelty music for 35 years and, if you grew up in the 1980s when he was lampooning Madonna, Michael Jackson and Devo, chances are his parodying Coolio, Eminem and Lady Gaga over the years didn’t have the same effect.
But Yankovic’s new stuff finds great balance in appealing to music fans of all audiences, which has always been his calling card, even if you jumped ship along the way. Contemporary fans will appreciate his take on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” a fixer-upper’s manifesto called “Handy,” which provides another example of the funnyman’s rapping skills.
Yankovic is also here to teach, with “Word Crimes,” a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” This version is both hilarious and educational, with the way he transitions between his natural singing register and falsetto, and the content of the song (“Just now/you said/you literally couldn’t get out of bed/that really makes me want to literally smack a crowbar upside your stupid head”).
Those who shun pop music today may listen to those parodies and smile once, but Yankovic and his band are students of many genres, and “Mandatory Fun” provides several standout pastiches, or style parodies, for other kinds of listeners. “Mission Statement” tackles meaningless buzz words in the corporate world, but it’s also an ode to the stylings of Crosby, Stills and Nash. It’s also very smartly written, in the same way his Bob Dylan tribute “Bob” took on palindromes a decade ago.
There are also a couple of edgy pastiches on the album. Yankovic spent much of the early to mid-’90s sending up alternative music, but here he’s at it again with the Pixies-sounding “First World Problems,” which offers a somewhat amusing takedown of privileged people and their daily struggles.
Then there’s the Foo Fighters-esque track, “My Own Eyes,” which is the most interesting song on “Mandatory Fun” because the music is heavy, and although Yankovic’s lyrics are mostly absurd, he sings with equal parts horror and urgency, and the chorus could actually be mistaken for a serious song from a real rock band.
Not everything is a gem. “Inactive” is a parody of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” and, while it’s amusing, how many times can Yankovic rely on characters who are lazy and eat too much food? “Sports Song” is a marching band tune that could be played at football stadiums for years to come, but it’s not biting enough, and makes for an easy skip on someone’s music player.
Yankovic sure knows how to end an album, though. “Jackson Park Express” is a nine-minute storytelling gem from the perspective of a guy who’s delusional about a girl. Each verse is more sweeping, more insane than the previous one. If you enjoyed his other epics like “Albuquerque” and “Trapped in the Drive-Thru,” you’ll dig this.
As always, “Weird Al” Yankovic has something in store for everyone on this record. Every time he puts out new material it’s an opportunity to ask yourself, “Is ‘Weird Al’ still for me?” Give this album a listen and, no matter your age, the answer will be a definitive yes.