Already accepted as a bona fide talent in the world of parody -- his musicianship, comedic timing, his pop-culture reference awareness, and his great wordplay are all well-documented -- the only thing that matters when it comes to "Weird Al" Yankovic albums is how inspired the king of novelty songs sounds on any given LP. On his 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun, the inspiration meter goes well into the red, something heard instantly as Iggy Azalea's electro-rap "Fancy" does a complete 180 thematically on the opening "Handy," the song now heading toward the local home improvement store where the craftsmen vogue in their orange vests and blow sweet come-ons like "I'll bring you up to code" and "My socket wrenches are second to none. " Pharrell's "Happy" becomes "Tacky" and Al's amazing ability to follow an everyday poke ("Wear my Ed Hardy shirt with fluorescent orange pants") with something brainy and reserved ("Got my new résumé, it's printed in Comic Sans") surprises once more, but for end-to-end "wows," it's his brilliant redo of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," now the smug and twerking "Word Crimes," which gives copy editors, English professors, and grammar nerds a reason to hit the dancefloor ("And listen up when I tell you this/I hope you never use quotation marks for emphasis!").
"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 â??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.
The master is back. "First things first, Imma craftsman!" Those are "Weird Al's" first words on Mandatory Fun, as he mimics Iggy Azalea's hard hip-hop affect on "Fancy" for a song called "Handy" about someone who can fix anything in the world. In a sense, this is what Yankovic does with other people's inventions; he tweaks them hard enough so that they might just be a little bit better.
Weird Al Yankovic is an institution at this point. His latest album, Mandatory Fun, is his 14th, and his first self-titled release came out back in 1983. That, if my math is correct, is 31 years, giving pop music’s foremost parodist a career longer than almost any musician he’s ever lampooned. Additionally, Yankovic doesn’t merely get to do the same thing over and over like many legacy acts.
There’s a peculiar saintly glow surrounding “Weird Al” Yankovic. My earliest communal listening experiences took place in front of a tape deck in my friends’ bedrooms, where we played Off the Deep End or The Food Album over and over, laughing until we couldn’t breathe. Weird Al’s legacy is, by now, well-established, and his peculiar brand of absurdity — a mélange of savvy pop culture references, unabashed dorkiness, and a dash of the playfully macabre — has had a significant impact in the world of comedy (musical or otherwise).
Having already looked at the very best of the “Weird Al” catalog, Consequence of Sound’s Matt Melis and Ben Kaye recently sat down with staff writer Henry Hauser to chat about the Weird one’s new record, Mandatory Fun. Matt Melis (MM): For more than 30 years, “Weird Al” Yankovic albums have provided a nerdy, zany, irreverent excuse to throw a party. But the fascist, propaganda-inspired cover art, promotional “transmissions,” and title of Yankovic’s new album, Mandatory Fun, convey a far more uncompromising message: Join the party, or else! Yes, Big Brother Al is watching you, us, and apparently Lorde and Iggy Azalea, and hell hath no fury like a goose-stepping, polka-loving dictator who doesn’t get his state-mandated yuks.
It should probably go without saying, but there are a lot of terrible parodies out on the internet. Go ahead and look for some now. There’s a good chance you can find one if not two by the time this sentence is over. Of course, this isn’t the kind of thing that’s going to stop “Weird Al” Yankovic—not by a long shot.
The success of any great piece of art is determined by a few key factors. Does it accomplish what it sets out to achieve? Does it illuminate some essential aspect of the human condition? Does it change those who are exposed to it — rewire the circuitry, add new ideas that disturb the status quo? Does it build on the art of others, in the process crafting something profoundly new? Most important, does it advocate for the enduring relevance of tinfoil? Under these guidelines, Weird Al Yankovic's new "Mandatory Fun" is a stone cold masterpiece. Its goal remains the same since Yankovic changed the game with "My Bologna" and "Eat It": parodying hit songs to create gut-busting laughter.
Of all the musicians who came of age in the ’80s, the artist that’s remained the most relevant might be a surprising one: “Weird Al” Yankovic. The master accordionist/humorist has endured thanks to some savvy career diversification. Yankovic knows he’s only as good as his most recent parody, and so he’s always been a serious student of pop culture’s hot topics and new musical trends.