"Weird Al" Yankovic and I go way back. When I started becoming interested in breaking away from my parents' music and getting my own cassettes -- 3rd grade, 1989/1990 -- the first things I got were MC Hammer's Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and "Weird Al" Yankovic's Even Worse. I went backwards to buy the rest of his albums, and I bought each new one as it came out all through my youth. Don't tell Al, but I never bought Straight Out of Lynwood or Alpocalypse but I did listen a few times streaming or with nerdy friends who owned it. I have never been ashamed of my love of the veteran parodist; I will defend his talents and relevance in the history of pop music til the end.
The promotional push leading up to Mandatory Fun is helping bring Yankovic back into pop-culture relevance, in an era of shitty YouTube parodies that, while amateur, are able to hit the web immediately as opposed to a label man like Yankovic putting out traditional albums which take a lot of work and time. He has said in a couple different interviews that this may be his last traditional album and may turn to more of a singles approach. He's in tune with pop culture always, and he knows people have as short an attention span as ever. He knows "Royals" is a hit from a year ago, but still worth including after its recent Grammy grab. His is "Foil," starting as a song about his preferred method of storing leftovers, mutating into a tale about why it's also his favorite headgear.
He is promoting Mandatory Fun through the singles, a series of music videos released one a day for eight days through the week of the album drop. The first was "Tacky," his take on Pharrell Williams' "Happy." The original was originally released through Despicable Me 2, again from a year ago, but the song has remained in the public consciousness and gotten another push through its Grammy nomination and inclusion on Williams' latest album, just out this March. The song is great, though Yankovic is forced to use the end of the original -- packed with something like four choruses in a row -- like they were verses to get in more jokes. The video shows how much he is respected within the music and entertainment industry, packed with stars dancing while dressed hilariously, from Jack Black to Kristen Schaal.
"Word Crimes" was next, his take on Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." Speaking of "despicable," the original is horrible, but Al turns it into one of the funniest songs you'll hear this year, and the video accentuates the content about the devolution of English language through texting, tweeting, etc. My favorite line: "You should never / Write words using numbers / Unless you're seven / Or your name is Prince." To get a super-current hit, Al had to fly to an Iggy Azalea concert when her management was slow in responding. His version is "Handy," an advertisement for his handyman service and I'm sure a video is coming for this one.
Perhaps it's my Polish ancestry and the fact that yes, I own two accordions, but the polka medleys get me every time. "Now That's What I Call Polka!" includes "Wrecking Ball," "Call Me Maybe," "Thrift Shop" and "Pumped Up Kicks" (of course with a gunshot sound effect at the appropriate time) among many more. Best parts include "Gangnam Style" turned into "Polka Style" with a Jerry Lewis "Sexy LAAAYYYDEE" and when it slows down to the original tempo of "I'm Sexy and I Know It" with the tuba in place of the bass synth. The arrangements are amazing as usual, and it ends with "Get Lucky," repeating ad nauseum -- poking fun at the original -- to finish the medley. Being an old marching band nerd, also I love "Sports Song," a school fight song about how much your favorite team "really sucks." I'll be sure to post it to my Cub-fan friends when my White Sox are going to mop the floor with them.
Al will often throw a bone to his eldest listeners through an homage or cover of a classic act, and this time it's a parody of "Carry On" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young called "Mission Statement." It's an odd choice, perhaps included because of their recent reunion tours. "My Own Eyes," in the style of the Foo Fighters is a typical Al song about the most ridiculous things you could ever see, and probably recorded just for Al's sake, wanting to record a song with actual electric guitars in it since no modern pop song has 'em. But it works better with "First World Problems," an original in the style of the Pixies, starting with the bassline to "Debaser" then taking off from there. It's appropriate with the Pixies putting out a new album, but it's just that it's hilarious. Favorite line: "Had to buy something I didn't even need just so I could qualify for free shipping on Amazon.com! Don't you hate that, guys?
"Weird Al" Yankovic is a legend. It's been 35 years since he recorded "My Bologna" with his accordion in the bathroom of his college radio station, getting tons of play on the Dr. Demento radio show. Mandatory Fun is not necessarily among his must-have albums, but it's another solid addition that with satisfy any fan and win over some new kids through these big hit parodies and viral videos. Interested to where he goes from here now that his contract is up. I'm sure he'll adapt; he's a pro.