Monday, July 14, 2014

"Weird Al" Yankovic's "Mandatory Fun"


As a life-long (if life begins in Junior High) fan of “Weird Al” Yankovic, I still find it a bit surprising when I encounter someone who is unaware that besides parodies, he also writes original music. To be fair, Yankovic’s parodies have gotten the most mainstream attention, but if you’ve never heard one of his albums in its entirety (half of which are always original compositions), then you’re missing out. Yes, he’s a funny guy with a truly impressive knack for comedic wordplay but he’s also a very accomplished songwriter with a true ear for music. In my humble opinion, this was never so strongly apparent than on his new CD, “Mandatory Fun.” Yes, there are the expected spoofs on your favorite popular tunes, but the other half of the track listing is just as strong - and in some cases even stronger - and makes for a quite impressive farewell to his releasing music in the traditional CD format (No, Yankovic isn’t retiring, but this marks the end of his record contract and more than likely his releasing music in brick-and-mortar non-digital stores).

The production level is quite impressive and really showcases the musicians in Yankovic’s band. This isn’t just a Casio keyboard accompanied by Garage Band loops. These guys are really working (there are some amazing guitar and bass riffs waiting to blow you away) and a careful listen will reveal that the successful combination of comedy and music is more than just writing silly words. Yankovic is a perfectionist and not just in the lyrics. His careful attention to detail is what sets him apart from the hundreds of other “funny singers” you may find on YouTube. Nothing is merely thrown together and it’s this strive for excellence that makes for another solid project. Because Yankovic and Company have worked so hard, it makes it easy for us to just sit back and enjoy the funny. 

And there’s a lot of funny here to be enjoyed. 

From the very first song, “Handy,” Yankovic shows how he’s tried to shy from the obvious approach to parody. There may be a lot of goofs on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” floating around, but how many of them are boasts about one’s around-the-house craftsmanship? And how many of them have so cleverly approached the “I-G-G-Y” line from the original? You don’t have to be familiar with the originals to enjoy Yankovic’s renditions, but if you are it certainly enhances your listening experience as you realize how much care he’s taken to put his own twist on the phrasing and wording.

As you begin to listen to “Foil,” Yankovic’s take on Lorde’s “Royals,” you may be quick to write it off as yet another “song about food,” but as the song continues and you are reminded there’s another popular use for the title product, it’s hard not to smile as you realize Yankovic has been a step ahead of you. “Tacky” takes to task those who proudly wear socks with sandals, post Instagram photos of their food, and insist on using the Comic Sans font. Yes, Yankovic isn’t the first person to take the “Inactive” approach to the popular Imagine Dragons hit but he is certainly the one who does it best.

The highlight of the album is found on “Word Crimes.” If the thought of a parody of “Blurred Lines” made you roll your eyes, just wait until you hear what Yankovic has done with it. If you’re like me and clench your teeth each time someone on Facebook misuses the word “it’s” or seems to have no grasp of irony, the correct use of quotations, and the word “literally,” you will love, love, love this song. This song should be a required purchase for every English teacher. And American teenager. With lyrics like 

You should never/write words usin’ numbers/unless you’re seven/or your name is Prince”

this song had me laughing and simultaneously saying, “Yes!”

When it comes to the aforementioned original songs on the album, “My Own Eyes” stands out as an all-star. It’s a prime example of the wonderful production value on this project and could very easily find a place on any mainstream rock radio station were it not for the list of ridiculous sights Yankovic has witnessed in his years. “Lame Claim to Fame” includes one of the most clever inclusions of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Game you’ve heard and hearing a corporate jargon-stuffed “Mission Statement” sung in Yankovic’s best Crosby Stills & Nash-ian style makes for a juxtaposition so diametrically opposed, I had to love it.

I’ve never found Jerry Lewis especially amusing but for some reason when Yankovic does a callback to his “LAY-DEE” it always hits my funny bone in just the right spot. That’s just one of the highlights of this project’s polka compilation and I can only hope and dream that his “Sports Song” spreads across the nation and is sung in every college stadium at every sports event for the rest of forever. 

The title of this project couldn’t be more appropriate. Whether or not you’re already a fan of Yankovic you really should snag this one. You owe it to yourself to experience some “Mandatory Fun” especially when it’s done so well. Or is it done good? Don’t worry. With this CD in your collection your days as a word criminal will be over.


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