Weird Al Yankovic – Straight Outta Lynwood

Weird Al Yankovic - Straight Outta LynwoodThere’s nothing quite like Weird Al Yankovic firing on all cylinders. Much moreso than most of the targets of his satire, the man has a talent that defies time’s every attempt to pass him by. He’s even endured the wrath of a few of the artists he’s parodied (such as Coolio), or their labels (Atlantic actually vetoed a song that was recorded for this album – and so, unable to sell it, Weird Al released it for free on his web site). He’s definitely a force to be reckoned with.

And yet, if there’s one problem with Straight Outta Lynwood, it’s that this album is nothing like Weird Al firing on all cylinders. There’s a roughly equal number of hits and misfires here. When the songs hit their target, whether they’re parodies or originals, they’re some of the best of his career. “Don’t Download This Song” is a wickedly funny original that picks on everything from ’80s Chicago to bloated “We Are The World”-style all-star charity epics. “Virus Alert” sets the now-ubiquitous virus hoax e-mail trend to tremendously catchy music. And of course, there’s the biggest hit single of Weird Al’s career, “White & Nerdy.” I also have to single out the surreal “Weasel Stomping Day” and “Polkarama” – the obligatory polka medley of current top 40 hits – for special praise.

Where it misfires, though, Lynwood misses by quite a margin. “Pancreas” is a “style parody” of classic Beach Boys ballads (with a special emphasis on “God Only Knows” though it steers clear of mocking any single song musically) that just never quite comes in for a landing. A certain overblown R. Kelly pseudo-epic becomes the fodder for “Trapped In The Drive-Thru”, which is one of those songs that’s funny the first time around, but as with a lot of Weird Al’s longer songs (I’m looking at you, “Genius In France”), it grates on repeat rating: 3 out of 4listening (“Albuquerque”, it ain’t). And maybe I’m missing the joke, but “Canadian Idiot” seems atypically mean-spirited for Al.

All this being said, I still give Straight Outta Lynwood high marks, because on average, I’d rather listen to half of a good Weird Al album than an entire album from most of the targets of his satire.

Order this CD

  1. White & Nerdy (2:50)
  2. Pancreas (3:48)
  3. Canadian Idiot (2:23)
  4. I’ll Sue Ya (3:51)
  5. Polkarama (4:54)
  6. Virus Alert (3:46)
  7. Confessions Part III (3:52)
  8. Weasel Stomping Day (1:34)
  9. Close But No Cigar (3:55)
  10. Do I Creep You Out (2:46)
  11. Trapped In The Drive-Thru (10:51)
  12. Don’t Download This Song (3:54)

Released by: Volcano
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 48:24

Weird Al Yankovic – Poodle Hat

Weird Al Yankovic - Poodle HatIt’s been far too long since Weird Al graced us with his presence on record, though I have a theory as to why this isn’t his fault. I’ll get back to that in a moment though.

Poodle Hat is simultaneously a joy – heck, in some respect, anything Yankovic does is a joy – and a slight disappointment too. The latter feeling stems from a wee bit of repetition. Granted, there are always some things you can count on with Weird Al – he’ll be making fun of whatever’s been big on radio, he’ll more than likely have a polka medley that blends a bunch of disposable hits into a frothy stew of bizarre reinterpretations, and he’s got some of the best musicians on the planet helping him out, because the parody songs wind up sounding almost exactly like the originals, if not better. But here, we’re treated to some other repeated concepts too: now it seems as though a classic rock number will be turned into an only slightly tongue-in-cheek retelling of a recent big-screen hit, and there’s going to be a really long song at the end of the album.

When Running With Scissors rode into the stores on the back of “The Saga Begins”, a retelling of Star Wars Episode I to the tune of Don McLean’s “American Pie”, it was a novel, well-executed idea – and it was right on time, too, arriving just on the heels of the movie with a perfect video to match. Poodle Hat gives us a synopsis of Spider-Man set to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”, and hey, it is funny, but it’s not only a year too late, it’s a gag we’ve heard before. Maybe this is a tradition-in-the-making that needs to be rested.

As for the long song, Running With Scissors‘ “Albuquerque” need fear no competition from Poodle Hat’s “Genius In France”, a little riff on the legends of Jerry Lewis’ popularity in a certain European country. It drags on a bit too long. Like “Albuquerque”, “Genius” has a lot of time and melody changes, almost too many to keep track of – it’s like Weird Al’s doing a medley of original songs we’ve never heard before. And it’s not even as long as “Albuquerque” was…but still, it somehow doesn’t trip my trigger, becoming a bit of a “skip track.”

Now, those two complaints aside, the rest of the album is sheer genius no matter what country you’re in. I’m getting to where I like Weird Al’s originals better than his parodies, and here he puts what may be his best original song ever on display: “Hardware Store”. Not just funny, this song is a masterpiece of vocal performance. And I’m not being sarcastic there – over the years, Yankovic has parodied everyone from Michael Jackson to Madonna to R.E.M., and he couldn’t have done this without an incredibly flexible voice to pull it off, but “Hardware Store” blows away anything I’ve yet heard from him. Wow.

“eBay” is a dead-on (topically speaking) parody of both a Backstreet Boys song and everyone’s favorite (and/or least favorite) online auction service. The whole eBay culture is neatly lined up in Weird Al’s sights for this one, from “check my feedback” to the dreaded sniper bids. “A Complicated Song” neatly shreds Avril Lavigne’s Complicated, though in the course of the song, Yankovic goes from being constipated to decapitated. For those of us who instantly filed this song next to Alanis’ “Ironic” in the relevance department, it’s bliss to hear Weird Al spoof it.

The other big treat here is the “Angry White Boy Polka”, taking a bunch of angsty, supposedly hard-hitting songs and running them through the blender. It’s not quite up to the standard of some of Weird Al’s previous polka-fests, but – and this brings me neatly back to my theory of why, aside from a busy directing and producing schedule, Weird Al has been absent from the scene – maybe this is because what’s on top 40 radio lately just hasn’t provided Weird Al with the kind of fodder he needs. So much sampling of older songs, so 4 out of 4much forgettable stuff crowds the airwaves these days, maybe it’s taken Al this long to come up with enough material to fill an album. And really, it’s a good album – my big quibbles with it aren’t that major, more along the lines of concerns that a formula may be setting in. As much as Weird Al needs decent music for his parodies to thrive, bad music also needs Weird Al to kick it back into line.

Order this CD

  1. Couch Potato (4:20)
  2. Hardware Store (3:46)
  3. Trash Day (3:13)
  4. Party At The Leper Colony (3:40)
  5. Angry White Boy Polka (5:05)
  6. Wanna B Ur Lovr (6:16)
  7. A Complicated Song (3:41)
  8. Why Does This Always Happen To Me (4:54)
  9. Ode To A Superhero (4:54)
  10. Bob (2:31)
  11. eBay (3:38)
  12. Genius In France (8:56)

Released by: Volcano
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 54:54

Yes – Highlights

Yes - HighlightsAs much as I like some acts which could be considered progressive rock (Alan Parsons, early ELO, and so on), I’ve got to fess up to something: I’ve never quite gotten as “into it” as some diehard prog-rock fans. I’m more of a popster, so sometimes the big league prog stuff like early Yes or Emerson Lake & Palmer leave me a bit cold. Not that I doubt the musicianship of the people involved, but it’s just not the style of music that I feel like spending a lot of time with. If I want long, epic pieces, I tend to go orchestral.

But damned if I don’t like me some early Yes from time to time. Remember the Wayne’s World scene where Wayne, Garth and friends are banging their heads in time to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”? I’ve been known to do something similar with “Roundabout”. And fortunately for me, there’s Highlights, a nice little one-disc selection of remastered material from a Yes box set that, while I’m sure the fans dug it, relly amounted to too much of a financial commitment for a casual fan like myself. Highlights is about all the prog-rock I need: sort of a prog-rock hot pocket which surveys the band’s career from those gloriously overblown AM radio epics of the early ’70s to their more accessible ’80s material.

Well, more accessible to me, anyway. “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” was a high water mark for Yes’s public profile as well as the early (and far more innovative) MTV era; that song also has the curious distinction of helping to launch the career of a whole other entity, as producer Trevor Horn took the sound of the now-immortal sampled horn break and ran with it to create the Art of Noise. I’ve also always had a sneaking liking for “Leave 4 out of 4It”, which dispenses with some of “Owner”‘s studio flash in favor of a great song with incredible vocal harmonies, a description which could be equally applied to “Rhythm Of Love”.

So perhaps what I need here is a Yes ’80s collection. But then again, maybe not. My life just wouldn’t be the same without the occasional psychedelic headbanging session set to the tune of “Roundabout”.

Order this CD

  1. Survival (6:18)
  2. Time And A Word (4:31)
  3. Starship Trooper (9:26)
  4. I’ve Seen All Good People (6:55)
  5. Roundabout (8:31)
  6. Long Distance Runaround (3:33)
  7. Soon (4:06)
  8. Wonderous Stories (3:45)
  9. Going For The One (5:32)
  10. Owner Of A Lonely Heart (4:27)
  11. Leave It (4:10)
  12. Rhythm Of Love (4:46)

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 1993
Total running time: 66:00