Album Review: Mandatory Fun – Weird Al Yankovic

Man, when was the last time I did an album review?

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Released:
July 2014
Label:
RCA Records
Genre: Comedy/Pop
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You’d better have some.

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TRACK LISTING

1. Handy
2. Lame Claim To Fame
3. Foil
4. Sports Song
5. Word Crimes
6. My Own Eyes
7. NOW That’s What I Call Polka!
8. Mission Statement
9. Inactive
10. First World Problems
11. Tacky
12. Jackson Park Express

Weird Al Yankovic is easily one of my favourite artists of all time, and his career has now lasted well over 30 years. The king of musical parody has always been most famous for his direct musical homages, which ape the exact melodies of relevant pop songs, but his astoundingly lengthy success can also be attributed to his underrated songwriting skills, both in his famous “style parodies” and his completely original tunes. This aspect was arguably in short supply on his last album, 2011’s Alpocalypsewhich was also criticised for falling behind the rapidly accelerating pace of pop culture trends. I’m happy to say that Weird Al’s fresh album release, Mandatory Fun, has no such problems. Al’s shrewd choice of song topics, not to mention his clever promotion method of releasing eight music videos in eight days, has proved he is as adaptable as anyone, and that makes me rather happy.

The album leads off with its most immediately relevant parody, Handy. Based on Iggy Azalea’s Fancy, it has Al playing a boastful all-purpose handyman claiming that “there is nothing in the world I can’t fix”. The wordplay is clever and fits nicely with Azalea’s original flow. It’s a fine start to the album. Lame Claim To Fame takes on the style of Southern Culture on the Skids, a personal favourite of Yankovic’s, to go on about his fictional ties to various celebrities, all of which are thoroughly underwhelming on purpose. The song doesn’t have a particularly memorable tune but does feature plenty of cowbell, which makes any song better.

Foil is Weird Al’s take on Lorde’s Royals (How about that – the first two parodies on a Weird Al record are of an Aussie and a Kiwi), and he takes it in a memorably left field direction by starting with an ode to the practical uses of aluminium foil before turning to a satirical mosaic of interlinking conspiracy theories. Things then turn oddly generic with Sports Song, which avoids the pitfalls of becoming dated by deliberately sounding like every American sporting war chant ever. Yankovic has admitted he only wrote it to fill a theme gap in his discography, but it does its job.

The best of all the direct parodies on the album arrives next. Word Crimes is a brilliant grammar-themed rant to the tune of Robin Thicke’s much-maligned Blurred Lines, arguably the most relevant track on the album as far modern internet culture is concerned. I’m ashamed to admit I picked up a thing or two from the song that I didn’t know about beforehand. It’s a thoroughly entertaining public service announcement from the serial satirist (that was proper use of “It’s”, right?) Random utterance song My Own Eyes follows, though it isn’t really worth writing home about. The Foo Fighters influence on its sound is clear enough, but the track lacks the novelty value of the album’s other offerings.

Al then takes on his 12th pop music polka appropriation with Now That’s What I Call Polka! His shortest polka in a long time, the medley is still tight and the songs the virtuoso accordionist picks are pretty much all highly recognisable mega-hits, from Wrecking Ball to Gangnam Style to Get Lucky. It’s hard to fault it, as usual. My personal favourite track of the album holds the eighth track slot, as Mission Statement not only draws humour from drawing out constant business buzz-phrases into a four-and-a-half minute song, but said song is right on point in mimicking the harmonious vocal style of Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Inactive takes the ethereal sound of Imagine Dragons’ Radioactive and applies it to the world of the couch potato, before First World Problems highlights a slew of modern worries that really shouldn’t be worries. Ever had wi-fi reach problems or purchased a meaningless extra item to get free shipping on an online order? Yankovic will heap shame on you and make you laugh at yourself for doing so, much like he does in Tackyan homage to Happy by Pharrell Williams. The first song he revealed prior to the album’s release, Tacky deals with awful fashion and life choices that would make most people cringe.

In the tradition of most of his recent albums, Weird Al ends with a lengthy closer. At just over nine minutes long, the Cat Stevens-esque Jackson Park Express sits comfortably alongside the likes of Albuquerque, Genius in France and Trapped in the Drive-Thru in that department and it keeps the bizarre jokes coming, telling the tale of a lovesick public transport user with an overly active imagination and hideous people-reading skills. Quintessential Weird Al, really, and a fantastic way to end an album that represents a return to form for the beloved comedian. Mandatory Fun is, as it turns out, quite a bit of fun.

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THE VERDICT

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Strongest Tracks:
Handy, Foil, Word Crimes, Mission Statement, First World Problems
Weakest Tracks:
My Own Eyes
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515/110A M A Z I N G

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