Of the two Weird Al albums released in the current decade, 2014’s Mandatory Fun seems to generally receive the lion’s share of attention, due to its topping the Billboard 200 for a week and producing Yankovich’s third Top Forty single, the Schoolhouse Rock tribute “Word Crimes”. But of the two albums, this one is actually the better one by a significant margin.
Some have held it against him that he basically repackaged the songs from his Internet Leaks EP, which had made a big deal about its gimmick of being distributed free over the internet, as part of this commercial album, which some saw as hypocritical. But when this album was released in 2011, there was undoubtedly still a significant portion of Yankovich’s fanbase that hadn’t been sufficiently internet-savvy as to have downloaded the EP (I was one of them at the time, so I know), so I can understand why he felt the need to make sure that all of his fans got to hear this material. In any case, apart from perhaps “Skipper Dan”, the most interesting material on this album was all completely new at this time, so there was ample reason to pick it (and ample value in paying for it) up even if you already owned the EP.
The material from the EP is capable enough…a recession-themed parody of a Glam Rap song, and topical technology satires mimicking the styles of Queen (“Ringtone”) and the Doors (“Craiglist”), but it’s very much Yankovich business-as-usual. Even the genuinely amusing “CNR”, which parodies the ‘Chuck Norris facts’ meme by substituting Charles Nelson Reilly for Chuck Norris, doesn’t really break any new ground.
But much of this album is actually quite dark and deep by Yankovich’s usual standards. “Skipper Dan”, the funny-sad lament of a failed actor reduced to working at Disneyland, is actually quite depressing for a Weird Al song, especially on repeat listens. And “TMZ” and “Party In the CIA” are two of most ambitious and serious satires Yankovich has ever released. The former, based on Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”, is a genuinely biting commentary on our culture’s treatment of celebrities, while the latter, a parody of Miley Cyrus’ “Party In the USA”, is a surprisingly dark political satire that actually mentions waterboarding and political assassinations.
The single this time around was “Perform This Way”, and while it may not have charted as high as “Word Crimes”, it is an even more impressive achievement. If you had asked almost anyone before this album came out, they would have said Lady Gaga’s sheer excesses made her utterly impossible to parody, but Weird Al is considered the King of Parody for a reason, and he proved it by creating a hilarious parody of “Born This Way” that perfectly captured the utter absurdity of the whole Lady Gaga phenomenon.
The ubiquitous polka medley of contemporary hits is, like all such medleys on Weird Al albums, something of an acquired taste, but this one is as well-executed as any of them, and will no doubt appeal to that handful of fanatics who buy the albums primarily for those medleys.
Pretty much the only real dud on the album is “If That Isn’t Love”, an uninspired retread of jokes that weren’t even Weird Al’s best work the first time around. But the album more than makes up for that misstep with its magnificent closing track, “Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me”. On the surface, it seems similar to the two aforementioned decent-but-unspectacular songs from the EP; then-current technology jokes set to a pastiche of a Classic Rock act’s overall style. But combining the sheer exaggerated dramatic force of the Jim Steinman-Meat Loaf collaborations with a hyperbolic lyric about unwanted e-mail somehow resulted in a song so gloriously over-the-top that it ranks with the funniest large-scale set pieces of Yankovich’s career.
As I said, this album tends to get overlooked in favor of its successor Mandatory Fun, but it contains some of the most impressive material in the entire Weird Al canon, and it demonstrates how he has outlasted most of the acts he started out parodying and is still as relevant now as he was in the Eighties and Nineties. This album should be required listening for anyone with an interest in Weird Al’s work (yes, even if you already own Internet Leaks), and is also of value to anyone interested in the Pop music of the period, as Yankovich casts a fascinating lens on that pop-culture era and its assorted phenomena.