I have a very special place in my heart for “Weird Al” Yankovic. He was the first or second musical act that I liked independently of my parents. Meaning, his music was one of the first that I listened to on my own. It didn’t play in the house or the car on the radio whenever my parents would drive. Weird Al’s (along with Linkin Park) was the first music that started to develop my musical tastes. Eventually leading to this eclectic weirdo who writes for you today.
I was in elementary school then. I am entering my fourth (and last—thank you) year of college. Al’s music has been with me for most of my life. Alapalooza, Bad Hair Day, and Running With Scissors are some of my favorite albums of all time. (I don’t know if they would all fit in some top ten list or not, but they are in the general category of favorites for me).
Now take a deep breath—let it out slowly, brace yourself. I’m sorry. I did not like Mandatory Fun. If there was fun to be had, it was not me having it. Now, let me be very very clear here, I don’t think my not liking this album is Weird Al’s fault. He did on this album everything he has historically done on every album: Parody songs, original comedy songs, a polka medley, and a long song at the end of the album. All of these things have worked on many of his albums for me, so what changed? A lot of things.
The first thing that is glaringly annoying about this album are a lot of the parody songs: The Weird Al staple—his Bread and Butter. I didn’t like hardly any of them. And I think that has a lot to do with the songs that are being covered. “Tacky” and “Word Crimes” are parodies of Pharrell’s “Happy” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” —two songs I hate to the very core. “Happy” has been over played to the point of nausea for me. Any song parodying “Happy” is only marginally better, but still maintains the same grossly over played melody that the new lyrics would have to be of otherworldly brilliance and comedy for me to be able to stand it. “Blurred Lines” has a special place on my list of songs that I hate, because of the lyrical content. If you don’t know what I mean look it up—I hate that song. So the same thing happens with “Word Crimes” as does with “Tacky”. I hear the first few notes and tune out because I cannot stand the melody. I also have some qualms with all the people saying the lyrics of “Word Crimes” are genius. Being annoyed about people writing or speaking “improperly” is not new, and frankly there are literally a billion songs, infographics, comedy sketches and routines about it, that it’s not new.
That said, the second verse of “Foil” is without a doubt the best joke on the album (I actually laughed out loud), and “Handy” is a fine song. But the same thing happens with the polka medley on this album. I’m sick of all of the songs that Weird Al puts to a polka beat. I’m sick of them. I’m going to throw up—I’m so sick of them.
Where Weird Al has always shone brightest for me has been his original pieces. “The Night Santa Went Crazy” and “You Don’t Love Me Any More” are some of the most fantastic songs he’s ever done. But on this album something is missing for me. Could it be that after a dozen albums Al’s brand of absurdism is no longer fresh or surprising to me? It’s possible. Could it be that after the parody songs I really need something fantastic to improve my mood and these just aren’t his best work? That could be it too. But I don’t know for sure. I just don’t see myself belting out “Jackson Park Express” in the car with my friends on the way to the beach like I do with “Genius in France” or “Frank’s 2000″ TV”. It just isn’t there.
If you want to stop reading now, here’s my final verdict: Listen to the album on Spotify so that Al gets money for the plays. Then decide if you want it. Don’t let me stop you from buying this album. I love Al. He deserves lots of your money. If anything, go back to the albums he made in the 90’s and buy those. But this album just didn’t work for me. I wanted it too—I really did. It’s not you Al, it’s me.
The last Weird Al album I really enjoyed was Straight Outta Lynwood. That album came out in 2006, at the height of my addiction to Black Metal, and I still loved that album. Why? I think it had a lot to do with the songs being parodied and how aware of them I was. “White and Nerdy” was the breakout single on that album. A parody of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’ Dirty.” A song I had only heard being blasted out of cars driving by (because dudes loved their car music freaking loud in the aughts), and maybe once or twice at my cousin’s house or something. In fact, I didn’t start listening to that song until I had heard the parody. And here is where Weird Al’s appeal came for me! He did funny versions of songs I had NEVER HEARD BEFORE. Songs that were in the public consciousness, but not crazy over-played. And I don’t think that on Mandatory Fun that’s the case. I also don’t think that is a fault on Weird Al’s part. I think that eight years ago, things were different. Viral marketing wasn’t quite a thing yet. YouTube wasn’t quite as widely used. Heck, Facebook was still competing with MySpace at the time (yeah, remember that?). It was harder for songs to be ingrained in our minds. Ear worms were more like earthworms and less like tape worms. Weird Al’s versions of songs were more popular than the originals because there were actual people who hadn’t heard the original versions of the songs Weird Al was doing parodies of!
Now, I don’t think that this is true for everyone. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I was not listening to the radio, or participating in pop culture at all at the time. I was a freshman in high school, I hated everybody. Turning on the radio meant dealing with all the “sheeple” in the world. Since then, I have smoothed my rough edges enough to allow my girlfriend to tune to the local Top 40 station now and then. I have a teen sister that I try to interact with—I know what the kids are hip to, dawg. But even so, I think that viral marketing is more planned than serendipitous now than ever. Meaning that if a song is on Weird Al’s radar, it is probably on everyone else’s radar too.
The other issue that I think Al faces is that of producing an album. It takes time—a lot of time. Years! The news cycle moves too fast. The YouTube comedy cycle is on point. “Wrecking Ball” parody songs and videos were coming out within hours of the original being released. Weird Al, working in his medium of albums, cannot compete with that. So by the time he releases his parody of “Happy”, he’s four months too late. Whereas in the 90’s and the aughts, things moved a little slower. He had time to write a good, funny song, produce it, repeat eleven more times, and release an album and still have the songs be relevant—and I think he knows this. There have been rumblings about him wanting to do things differently, and Mandatory Fun being his last album. Speculation or not, Al has to know that he either needs to pick up the pace to keep up with the kids, or innovate again.
I think that’s something Al can do. He basically popularized (if not invented) the parody song. Every raunchy parody that came out when Napster was still a thing was labeled as a Weird Al song. I think Al can figure it out from here.
What do you think of “Mandatory Fun”? Share your thoughts below, and check out the music video for “Word Crimes”.