By Ken Selander, Daily Arts Writer
Published July 16, 2014
I still remember my unrivaled love for “White & Nerdy” – the cover of the album I’d see on my second generation iPod nano every time I turned the song on, the music video that made me laugh every time. I learned every single word to the song. If you stopped me in the street today and put the song on I’d still slay the verses. But this is not a memoir of my middle school fandom of Weird Al Yankovic, this is my take on his latest album Mandatory Fun.
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I love the record cover, a classic commie propaganda poster with Weird Al plastered up as the fearless leader. I’m pleased that both Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” and Pharrell’s “Happy” are made fun of here. “Handy” parodies Iggy and is sung from the point of view of a handyman. The track’s references to pop culture, rap music and Iggy’s questionable rise to stardom make for a well-rounded parody. The mention of bricks immediately takes the listeners mind to the bricks (of cocaine) that are so frequently mentioned by rappers, a nice touch for rap-star aficionados. Lyrics to the song also include “I’ll screw that, screw that,” which, when combined the song’s title, “Handy,” might amount to parody beyond the word for word lyrical switches. In my mind, such sexual innuendos might be a shot at both Iggy’s physical - not musical - appeal through which she garners fans and even the reasoning behind T.I.’s blessings of the Australian born-and-raised wannabe gangsta. Might this just be me imposing my own beliefs on “Handy”? Almost definitely, but I wouldn’t put it beyond Weird Al to be capable of crafting multiple layers of laughs in a song.
I smirked at “Tacky,” Mandatory Fun’s second to last track, for the same reason I was pleased with “Handy:” I dislike the original song. To be short, “Happy” by Pharrell doesn’t make me as happy as the song would imply.
While I took pleasure in the mere fact that Weird Al parodied Iggy and Pharrell – and didn’t really care for the contents or music of the songs – I enjoyed the lyrics and moderately enjoyed the music of “My Own Eyes.” The song is a Foo-Fighters inspired number, with a classic alternative sound. It successfully takes hardcore topics and flips them on their head with edgy, angsty vocals. Instead of talking about doing coke, Weird Al’s discusses people snorting actual pixie sticks. He’s even seen “a junkie eat a tuba,” with his own eyes. The funniest part is that an Alt band could simply replace the silly things Weird Al claims he’s seen with serious life events and “My Own Eyes” could easily pass as an Alt Rock Top 40-type song.
The most relatable track is “Jackson Park Express,” which is the story of an imagined bus romance between a guy and girl. The song is based on the thoughts of a male passenger and narrator as he makes eye contact with a girl and both assume varying expressions. I don’t know about you, but this scenario is extremely reminiscent of Blue Bus rides down from North Campus when I forgot my ear buds. Most anyone can relate if they’ve ever seen a pretty girl or guy on the bus and made quick eye contact. Hopefully that’s not just me. Right?! Anyway, the song probably isn’t exactly what would be going on in your head – or at least I hope not. The thoughts start out pretty normal, but by the end, romantic lyrics like I’d “rip you wide open and kiss every single one of your internal organs,” find their way into the verses.
Naturally, a Weird Al Yankovic album needs some polka. “Now That’s What I Call Polka!” has Weird Al’s signature accordion playing bouncing this collage of chart topping songs along. This track is a hoot. The song starts out with an accordion rendition of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball.” This bizarre combo of accordion and ballad almost ruined “Wrecking Ball” for me when I thought the whole song would be just this cover in that I would never be able to take it seriously again. Luckily I was wrong. The next snippet is “Pumped Up Kicks,” by Foster the People, and sounds even more maniacal with Weird Al speeding along on the accordion with a Wild West gunshot in the background. I started laughing out loud at “I’m Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO, driven by a tuba composition that typically is used to follow around morbidly obese cartoon characters.
While I laughed at one song and chuckled at three or four, the other tracks on Mandatory Fun are unimpressive. “Foil,” “Word Crimes” and “Mission Statement,” are all songs that have rather uninteresting topics for humor, and make for boring songs. “Sport Song” is trash. I know there may be lots of reasons to like the creativity of these songs, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy listening to the final product.
Mandatory Fun is all right and has about three songs I’d consider for my iPod, but there’s nothing to go crazy over. The music videos offer an additional element of hilarity that cannot be produced by the album alone, which definitely affects the enjoyment level. Maybe my dislike for the album overall reflects my distaste for many of today’s pop hits.
Maybe pop music in the 90’s and early aughts was just better and gave Weird Al a foundation of quality music to build off of to gain success through ripping off other artists in the most comical, fun-loving way possible. Hits like “The Saga Begins,” “Ebay,” “Eat It,“ “Canadian Idiot” and “White & Nerdy” are hits because their predecessors were popular and quality tunes. I know saying that I don’t like all these songs he’s parodying may not be a popular stance, but so be it. So maybe if you prefer today’s top pop music you’ll love Weird Al’s “Mandatory Fun.” I don’t love it, but don’t get me wrong – I’m forever White and Nerdy.