Pete Yorn – Day I Forgot

Pete Yorn - Day I ForgotIt was almost inevitable that Pete Yorn would suffer a bit of a sophomore slump with Day I Forgot, his followup to musicforthemorningafter – if I started raving about Day I Forgot as much as I did about the last album, you’d probably suspect me of being on the Yorn payroll. But “not being as good as one of Dave’s Damn Near Perfect albums” is not all that penetrating a review, so I feel compelled to say a little bit more on behalf of what is, in its own right, a fine musical achievement.

The songwriting skills that first hooked me on Yorn are still in evidence on this album. More importantly, he and partner R. Walt Vincent show a ton of talent for building a song from layer after layer of instruments. The best songs on Day I Forgot build momentum from an enthusiastic point-counterpoint duel between numerous guitars, percussion, keyboards, and whatever else they could find in the studio to make some noise. That Yorn and Vincent play most of them while co-producing most of the tracks is almost enough to qualify them as a tandem musical hermit crab. They do have some able help, such as mixers and occasional co-producers Andy Wallace and Scott Litt. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck even shows up to play mandolin on one track, further confirming the man’s good taste.

My three favorite songs on the album are all up-tempo rockers, although only Burrito has the boundless energy of Life On A Chain. I simply can not not move when I hear this song, and I only wish it were longer than 2:45. “Crystal Village” and “Committed” are both a little more sedate, a little more clearly bittersweet, but they are excellent songs. I was listening to “Crystal Village” on headphones, and there’s an acoustic guitar part sort of buried in the right channel that just worms its way into your brain and doesn’t let go. The umpteen other guitars on top just echo and build on that small part to create a great listening experience. “Committed” is just…I don’t have the words for this song. There’s a very specific emotion that this song just captures, a sort of resigned acceptance of life’s pitfalls mixed with the realization that life’s still pretty darned good.

4 out of 4I want to rate this album at three, because it’s on the short side and a couple of the songs are merely OK. But the good songs are SO good – I was holding my one-year-old daughter while listening to “Committed”, and tears starting streaming down my face. Anything that can move me in such a fashion has to get a top score, but be aware that especially in this case, your mileage may vary.

Order this CD

  1. Intro (0:47)
  2. Come Back Down (3:24)
  3. Crystal Village (3:46)
  4. Carlos (Don’t Let It Go To Your Head) (3:29)
  5. Pass Me By (3:51)
  6. Committed (3:29)
  7. Long Way Down (3:38)
  8. When You See the Light (2:43)
  9. Turn Of The Century (3:03)
  10. Burrito (2:45)
  11. Man In Uniform (2:41)
  12. All At Once (4:04)
  13. So Much Work (4:47 – technically, this is track 14)

Released by: Columbia
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 42:44

Weird Al Yankovic – Even Worse

Weird Al Yankovic - Even WorseDoes Weird Al Yankovic love to take his swipes at Michael Jackson, or what? Once again, Al takes aim at Jackson – and tacks on yet another food theme – with “Even Worse”. Now, there’s no song by that title, but te cover art is clearly a spoof of Jackson’s buckle-covered Bad image, quite possibly the last time Jackson wasn’t too weird to be cool (well, arguably). But Bad is transformed into “Fat”, a littany of fat jokes which really worked better with the bizarre video than it does as a stand-alone song. Also not working in Even Worse‘s favor is “Stuck In A Closet With Vanna White”, a tune whose entire point seemed to be to cash in on the Wheel Of Fortune hostess’ then-inescapable ubiquity. (Truthfully, Al missed the mark here – had the song gotten out around 1988, he might’ve had a hit, but that prize went to someone else’s spoof.) “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” is a guilty favorite of mine, a spoof of George Harrison’s “(I Got My Mind) Set On You” which pokes fun at the original’s ever-so-slightly repetitious lyric. “You Make Me” seems to be yet another Devo style parody, and falls into the disposable category.

If it’s starting to sound like Weird Al struck out with Even Worse, fear not, it gets better. “I Think I’m A Clone Now” is a subtly amusing parody of Tiffany’s cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now”, right down to the straight-off-the-assembly-line bubblegum pop production sound, and “Lasagna” is a brilliant (and, once again, food-obsessed) take on “La Bamba”, which had just gotten some recent exposure thanks to Los Lobos. “Melanie”, one of my favorite Yankovic originals ever, is a little song sung from a stalker’s point of view, and performed as a catchy pop number a la Elvis Costello’s “Veronica” or later-era Toad The Wet Sprocket.

Yet another cover of a cover, “Alimony” lays waste to Billy Idol’s then-recent cover of “Mony Mony”. “Velvet Elvis” is one of those original songs that I could do without, while “Twister” takes, word-for-word, the original Milton Bradley TV ad for the party game of the same name and twists it into a Beastie Boys-style rap. “Good Old Days” is an original number which sets fire to James Taylor’s signature style of folk-pop and runs away snickering.

Given that In 3-D and Dare To Be Stupid were a couple of my all-time favorite albums at the time, I remember – even in 1990 – somehow expecting more out of Even Worse. For whatever reason, perhaps because rock music was confined to dull arena acts like Poison, pop producers were unleashing teenyboppers with the musical equivalent of pre-fabricated metal shacks, and rap was 2 out of 4starting to take over, Al just didn’t seem like he was firing on all cylinders here. In fact, it seemed like his next couple of CDs weren’t as on-the-mark either, and I was always disappointed that the seemingly obligatory polka medley – still a better demonstration of Yankovic’s musicianship and comic genius than any of his single-song spoofs – was missing.

Order this CD

  1. Fat (3:37)
  2. Stuck In A Closet With Vanna White (5:01)
  3. (This Song’s Just) Six Words Long) (3:37)
  4. You Make Me (3:05)
  5. I Think I’m A Clone Now (3:20)
  6. Lasagna (2:47)
  7. Melanie (3:59)
  8. Alimony (3:16)
  9. Velvet Elvis (4:30)
  10. Twister (1:04)
  11. Good Old Days (3:22)

Released by: Scotti Bros.
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 37:38

Weird Al Yankovic – Dare To Be Stupid

Weird Al Yankovic - Dare To Be Stupid1985. The video game industry had fallen, the last Star Wars movie had unspooled, leaving no sign of a sequel outside from some unpromising Ewok TV movies that somehow lacked the epic sweep of a Jedi duel between good and evil, and new wave music had given way to slickly-produced pop that attempted to mass-produce the synth-based sound that had been so boldly experimental just six years before when Gary Numan gave us Cars. And Weird Al Yankovic? Thank God at least Al was still around, and he had a fresh target: Madonna was on the rise.

This brings us to “Like A Surgeon”, Al’s cuttingly funny take-off of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin”, and the lead single (and first track) on Dare To Be Stupid. Considering that In 3-D had made him a superstar, the follow-up required some serious work to top it. And that it did, complete with some of Al’s best original compositions ever.

Dare To Be Stupid itself is a brilliant rip of the Devo sound, and in some ways even exceeds its inspiration. (Years later in a VH-1 special about Weird Al’s career, Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo confessed that he loved the synth sounds Al used in the song – and hated him from that day forward for “wasting” them on a parody. Get over yourself, Mark. We’ll reserve a room for you in the Shatner suite.) “One More Minute” sets some truly bizarre lyrics to Inkspots-style doo-wop music, while the brilliant “This Is The Life” takes on the big band style that wouldn’t be coming back into vogue for nearly a decade and a half. “Cable TV” is hilarious as well, and in some ways lays the foundation for Al’s movie, UHF.

In the area of parodying specific songs, Weird Al rarely hit the ball over the fence this often in the space of a single album. “I Want A New Duck” is a bizarre spoof which flips the bird to Huey Lewis’ “I Want A New Drug” (and I’ll best Yankovic spent a lot less time apologizing for his song after the fact); food is once again the topic of the Cyndi Lauper-inspired “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch”, and most brilliantly of all, Weird Al does an almost straightforward retelling of The Empire Strikes Back to the tune of the Kinks’ “Lola” in “Yoda” – proof, if any be needed, that Al needs to go back, record some new material, add “Yoda” and “The Saga Begins” to the mix, and tell the entire Star Wars saga through music.

The album is triumphantly capped off with “Hooked On Polkas”, another of Weird Al’s signature polka medleys of songs that were making it big at the time. Among his victims this time around are ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man”, Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose”, and Nena’s “99 Luftballoons”, to name just three richly-deserving candidates. It’s hard to really put a finger on why Dare To Be Stupid always rocked my world 4 out of 4back then; the only song that doesn’t do a thing for me is “Slime Creatures From Outer Space”, which sounds like a weak attempt to mimic Thomas Dolby’s style circa 1984, but that’s one bad egg out of nearly a dozen – and truth be told, Al foisted worse turkeys on us with Even Worse. Dare To Be Stupid dared to take on an era when rock and pop music was getting less and less interesting, and at least made them funny.

Order this CD

  1. Like A Surgeon (3:32)
  2. Dare To Be Stupid (3:26)
  3. I Want A New Duck (3:04)
  4. One More Minute (4:05)
  5. Yoda (3:58)
  6. George Of The Jungle (1:05)
  7. Slime Creatures From Outer Space (4:23)
  8. Girls Just Want To Have Lunch (2:49)
  9. This Is The Life (3:07)
  10. Cable TV (3:38)
  11. Hooked On Polkas (3:52)

Released by: Scotti Bros.
Release date: 1985
Total running time: 36:59