-- It’s been 31 years since “Weird Al” Yankovic dropped his first album, and over that time he has become not only a master of parody but a barometer of pop culture as well.
The man can sing any genre and move seamlessly with the trends. Musically speaking, he’s a chameleon. He’s actually one of the best versed musicians of the entire rock era because it is obvious he has studied pop music down to each and every minute detail. He not only takes musical parody seriously, but his knowledge shines through in his originals.
“Mandatory Fun” is his 14th album and frankly it is one of his most solid to date. In fact, I would put it in his top 3 or 4 releases ever. What makes this one sharp is that it really captures the current culture in a bubble in a way that is more pinpointed than on previous records. This is especially true in the originals.
“Lame Claim To Fame” is a hilarious name-dropping list with boasts like, “I bought a second-hand toaster from a guy who says he knows Brad Pitt.”
“First World Problems” is a Pixies-esque rocker aimed at the issues of the privileged, with complaints like “My barista didn’t even bother to make a design on the top of the foam of my banana latte. “
It doesn’t stop with the originals either. The parodies spit some clever bile as well. On his spot-on parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (retitled “Word Crimes"), Al bemoans our society’s lack of adherence to grammatical rules. I’m guessing this occurred after a scroll through Twitter. He says, “You should never write words as numbers unless you’re 7 ... or your name is Prince."
Then there’s his parody of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” which has been redubbed “Tacky.” Again, the parody and musicianship are spot-on, aided by an instantly classic music video that premiered yesterday featuring a comedians Aisha Tyler, Margaret Cho, Eric Stonestreet, Kristen Schaal and Jack Black. Al not only revels in ugly fashions, but he also makes fun of other “tacky” practices, singing, “Now I’m dropping names almost constantly. / That’s what Kanye West keeps telling me.”
The album is full of zingers that sting the celebrity-obsessed Internet generation in a really biting way. The original, “Mission Statement” morphs a nearly-endless supply of corporate jargon into a Crosby, Stills & Nash-style folk-number. It’s one of the best spoofs of corporate culture since Mike Judge gave us “Office Space.”
Elsewhere on the record, Lorde’s “Royals” becomes an anthem for aluminum “Foil,” Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX’s “Fancy” becomes a lesson in home-repair as “Handy,” and Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” becomes an anthem for the sluggish as “Inactive.” As usual, Yankovic’s arrangements are as tight as the originals.
Then, of course, there is the obligatory polka-medley track, “NOW That’s What I Call Polka.” If you are unfamiliar with any of his records and how they are structured, this is where he performs humorous polka versions of hits from the last few years. He has said in interviews that the songs he chooses for these tracks tend to be songs he loved and tried to parody but that didn’t quite work. I will say that Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” Gotye and Kimbra’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” suit this kind of polka reading surprisingly well.
There is something bittersweet about “Mandatory Fun.” It pretty much aces Yankovic’s formula, but it has been suggested that it will be his last proper album given the fact that it fulfills his contract with RCA. Yankovic has said he may want to release smaller EPs or one-off tracks independently to stay more current. While I don’t think that is a bad idea necessarily, I worry that originals would get even more lost in the mix over the parodies.
“Mandatory Fun” delivers on its title. It’s a hilarious thrill ride and quite possibly Yankovic’s most solid album of the last 20 years. He’s on top of his game.