4 out of 5 stars
Video certainly killed the radio star. When the internet came along, it seemed the video star would be dead too. Then came Youtube and rather than signal the death knell, it gave yet more platform for the visual form.
Yes, this development brought us nonsensical racist train rant videos. Yes, it bought us stupid cat clips. But it also preserved a form which has flourished – the parody song. Today, almost 40 years after the first airing of his debut comedy song, Weird Al has shown he is still the king of the realm, regardless of the platform changes.
His fourteenth studio album, Mandatory Fun is also among his funniest.
Weird Al has taken on some big hits this time round including Pharrell‘s ‘Happy’, (now ‘Tacky’), Lorde‘s ‘Royals’ (now ‘Foil’) and Iggy Azalea‘s monotone, awful drone ‘Fancy’ (now re-branded ‘Handy’).
It is these three parodies which, although the most popular on the net, are the best. ‘Tacky’ perfectly summarises the narcissistic self-adoring Instagram junkies you see loitering in every town and city, and features a bunch of famous actors in the video too. Lorde‘s hit is transformed into a bizarre yet wonderful tune about the advantages of aluminium foil and how wearing a foil hat successfully stops alien abduction and foils (mind the pun) the covert mind control by the Illuminati. ‘Handy’ is simply brilliant – a clever, self-promotional jaunt from a desperate handyman character who will ”be your stripper / taking off lacquer, no one does it quicker.”
Perhaps the only pieces which do not fit are those which do not parody anything in particular. ‘Lame Claim to Fame’, while including some astute observations of those bullshitting types who claim any tenuous link to a celebrity, is forgettable and rather irritating. ‘First World Problems’, a Pixies style parody, is equally clever but rather annoying once more.
The Crosby, Stills and Nash style parody ‘Mission Statement’ is almost an exact copy of the Crosby, Stills and Nash song ‘Carry On’, just without the licence. As such it falls flat again, blabbering on about corporate stupidity and having a “mission statement”. And the final style parody ‘My Own Eyes’, the Foo Fighters this time,is another dud note, partly because I like the Foo Fighters too much to hear them parodied. The lyrics are entertaining, as always, but the melody is drab and dull, overproduced and filled with pointless observations about seeing a “stripper kiss a duck” and such like. (With all this said I am now calling into question exactly why I like the Foo Fighters. They are a bit repetitive and unimaginative in their metaphors. Damn you, Weird Al.)
And that’s perhaps the feeling you take away most from this album – a realisation that some songs you know, like or hate are either incredibly awful, or can be made into something hilarious. As always Weird Al‘s observations are on the mark. There were plenty of times through the album I was thinking: ‘Oh yes, foil really is a little better than tupperware; indeed, people really do confuse less and fewer’.
This is where Weird Al really works well – observational comedy. The best song highlighting his intelligent perception is ‘Word Crimes’, a great track. It pisses me off the people say “expresso” in English. It irritates me that people misspell ‘grammer’.
While the album is good, it works best as a visual piece on Youtube. Weird Al still has the knack for creating a decent video on the new platform, even though his influence has consequently led to the explosion of mediocre parodies on Youtube. It is here I think we shall see Weird Al in the future, something he hinted at himself when he said that Mandatory Fun is his last album.
If that is the case then this album leaves a bittersweet taste: bitter because it is the last studio version of Al; sweet because there is still probably more to come and the future parodies will perhaps be more timely, rather than publishing a batch in one go (many of which have passed their radio lifespan by the time Al has gotten hold of them).
So looking to the future, Weird Al should stick around for a while which is only a good thing. But while the moment lasts, treat yourself to copy of Mandatory Fun before the Illuminati establish a new world order and prohibit the sale of such genius.
Damn, time to wear the foil hat again. Thanks for the heads up, Al.
More filler than thriller:
My Own Eyes
Words: Ashley Scrace