Review: Mandatory Fun – Weird Al Yankovic

mandatory-fun-weird-al-yankovic

Hello all and welcome. Yes it is I, Elessar, your favorite internet movie critic, at his first attempt to branch out into music. I’ve always wanted to discuss music on this site, but my ability to has always been kind of hampered by a handful of things. The first is that my taste in music has always run a little on the obscure or transgressive side of things. My superiors here are quite permissive, but I think even they might balk if I tried to review a Mindless Self Indulgence album and if I reviewed Fight Like a Girl by Emilie Autumn or The Astronaut by Wax Fang, basically no one would know what I’m on about.

But even when I do like a popular song (which happens more often than you might think; I really liked Pompeii by Bastille, for example) I wind up in an awkward position. I know enough about music to overthink all of my musical choices, but not enough to really know enough of what I’m talking about to make it informative to other people. But there is one thing I do know a lot about: Parody.

This brings us to Weird Al Yankovic.

Weird Al is somewhat unique amongst comedy musicians. Oh there are others, some nearly as famous or influential as him; modern contemporaries like The Lonely Island or Garfunkel & Oates are unique and hilarious in their own right and while modern audiences might best remember mathematician Tom Lehrer for his work on The Electric Company, his comedic songs from the 60s and 70s are nearly peerless. But none of them can hold a candle to Weird Al. Like George Carlin or Jon Stewart, he has transcended being a simple comedian and has become a cultural force.

The degree to which Amish Paradise is a part of my foundational psyche cannot be overstated.

The degree to which Amish Paradise is a part of my foundational psyche cannot be overstated.

Being mocked by him is now a rite of passage for pop musicians. Some of his parodies have become more famous than the song they’re parodying, like Amish Paradise or Trapped in the Drive Thru. And when he announced his latest album, Mandatory Fun, I could not have been more excited. Music desperately needs Weird Al to return every few years to bring it down a peg and I could definitely use the laughs he can provide.

Well I’m 350 words in and I’ve yet to actually start talking about the album, but then there’s not actually a whole ton to say about it, so there you go. The album follows the, by now well established, Weird Al template. Primarily good natured parodies of modern pop hits, with a few style parodies of bands and right smack dab in the middle a Polka medley of about a dozen popular songs.

He is seen here doing his best to imitate the cover to The Room.

He is seen here doing his best to imitate the cover to The Room.

But there is room in that formula for really smacks of brilliance. I first knew things were going well on the first beat of the first song, a parody of Iggy Azalea’s Fancy, entitled Handy. It’s a pretty simple joke; Fancy retooled to be about…well tools actually, about a handyman. It’s a bit Weird Al has touched on before (in one of his few completely original songs, Hardware Store) but it’s an effortless  bit and it’s a great way to kick off the album, especially since the first lyric he sings is therefore: “First things first.”

I’ll spare you the song by song recap, and just tell you: Yes it’s good, in fact it’s great. The song that’s been getting a lot of press is his parody of Blurred Lines (including here at this very website), Word Crimes and yeah, that one is pretty brilliant. But for my money, the song that got me laughing the hardest was the parody of Royals, but Lorde, Foil, due to a flawlessly executed mid-song shift in subject. I won’t spoil it, you deserve to go in cold.

There’s a lot of other praise I could lob at the album; Inactive is a brilliantly executed parody of Radioactive, emphasizing the absurdly mundane subject with the epic sounding music. The polka medley is pretty great, (even if I don’t think he’ll make a polka medley that tops Polka Power) as it features polka reworkings of both Wrecking Ball and Call Me Maybe, and signals that he wants to acknowledge both of them, but that they’ve been parodied enough times that he doesn’t feel the need to do his own parody.

I shouldn't even need to explain to you why I find this funny.

I shouldn’t even need to explain to you why I find this funny.

Sports Song is a perfect parody of…well sports songs (football fight songs particularly), even if it doesn’t quite beat out Fight Fiercely Harvard in terms of parodies of that particular genre. And part of me wants to be a little madder that the album closer, Jackson Park Express, appears to be a combination of two of his most popular songs (Albuquerque, from which it takes the sheer surreality, and Trapped in the Drive Thru, from which it takes the painfully mundane subject and small geography) but I can’t be mad because it’s just so f**king funny.

Yeah I got some minor irritations. Come on, this is Elessar here, I’ve always got minor irritations. A style parody of the Pixies toward the end of the album isn’t as funny as it could be and feels oddly out of place, given that I haven’t heard from them since 2002 (or did they release a new album? I might have missed it. Still, the point stands). Also, while including Thrift Shop in his medley is fair game, his refusal to swear makes it feel a little…Kidz Bopish, if that makes any sense. It may not have been the best idea to parody a song that’s already intended to be funny, in general.

Minor quibbles aside, this is a great album. But you knew that. If you know anything about music, you knew Weird Al is a genius. I occasionally wonder if someone had foretold back in the 80s, that by 2005 Michael Jackson had burned himself out while Weird Al was still going strong, would they have believed it. But then, listening to Mandatory Fun, as I am even as I write this, it’s not hard to see why he’s stuck around as long as he has.

Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he would like to remind all of us to be ashamed that Wiggle got higher on the Hot 100 than Word Crimes.

Pros:

– hysterically funny

– well structured as an album

– brilliant parody of Happy, I forgot to even mention that

Cons:

– I guess one song isn’t as funny as it could be

– there’s about a 10 second bit of his polka medley that isn’t very good

– dammit Al, give me something to complain about!

Rating: 5/5

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Elessar

Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile with an obsession with Nicolas Cage and a god complex. His favorite movie is Blade Runner and his least favorite is The Condemned...which probably says more about him than he wants it to.

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Elessar

Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile with an obsession with Nicolas Cage and a god complex. His favorite movie is Blade Runner and his least favorite is The Condemned...which probably says more about him than he wants it to.

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