Album Review

Weird Al Yankovic - Mandatory Fun

Released July 15, 2014
Lisa Sanchez
Well, I always wondered when I would see the day when the geeks would inherit the Earth. Weird Al has made a 30-year career for himself, outliving Michael Jackson, and out-performing Madonna (Super Bowls not withstanding). He's been doing the same shtick since before I was born, spread across 14 albums, multiple tours, and even top Billboard songs. If Weird Al is a one-trick pony, we should all be so lucky to find anything we're so good at.
With the release of Weird Al's most recent album, Mandatory Fun, he tackles the hits of Iggy Azalea, Lorde, and Robin Thick. This is Weird Al's modus operandi; he picks popular songs, keeps the beat and makes the lyrics about food, jobs, or just strings words together into hilarious absurdity. He also does polka mash-ups of top songs, which is the number one reason I started playing clarinet in the 5th grade. Only Weird Al could make polka...not cool, but...acceptable?
Mandatory Fun starts out with "Handy" mimicry of Iggy Azalea's "Fancy". Admittedly, the most obvious parodies on the album are not the strongest songs. "Handy" is about a boastful handyman discussing his various constructive talents. Although it is still funny to hear Weird Al's lyrics to Azalea's beat, it doesn't have the same original lyrical quality that really makes Weird Al endearing. In 2006, Weird Al released "White and Nerdy" from his Straight Outta Lynwood album. That song had enough relevance and recognizable quality. It combined enough of Chamillionaire's original and Al's infectious nerdy comedy to make a really relatable and memorable song.
"Foil" follows along the same lines as "Handy", except on this one Weird Al gets real weird with it. Following the format of Lorde's "Royals," at first, he talks about the merits of foil for stood storage, then moves onto the benefits of using it as a hat to defend your mind from aliens. This song wins in a pure "What the fuck?" way that perhaps only Weird Al can pull off effectively. Plus, unlike some of the other loose couplings in other songs, "Foil" fits the cadence and rhyming scheme of the original, which makes it even funnier considering Weird Al's nasally voice could be confused with Lorde's soft croon.
But, it's not all soft-sell parodies and word swaps. The two best remakes on Mandatory Fun are "Word Crimes," originally from Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," and "Inactive" taken from Imagine Dragon's "Radioactive". Let me just say, before Weird Al's parody I had never listened to or watched the video for "Blurred Lines." Sadly out of sheer morbid curiosity that I'm sure has killed numerous cats I watched the original. No 90s "Gag me with a spoon" line can describe my disgust with Rob Thicke. My blood felt like it was replaced with pure skeeziness.
Weird Al's rendition, "Word Crimes" gives us a lesson on oxford commas (my favorite), contractions, and proper diction. It's a funny spin on the grammar nazis that exist in all of us. Plus, it takes a slimy song and turns it into something we all hold true and dear to our hearts; the difference between "its" and "it's". Where Weird Al could have easily blasted Robin Thicke for being a walking fungus in his song, he instead keeps it straightforward and just changes the song completely. Keeping it classy Weird Al. Keeping it classy.
"Inactive" is a perfect take on "Radioactive" which is an accomplished song in and of itself. Weird Al takes the breathing effects and heavy beats in "Radioactive" and makes them asthma attacks and labored foot steps in "Inactive" while describing a ridiculously lazy shut in. It sounds more depressing than it actually is, the same way saying "white, morbidly obese Micheal Jackson impersonator" may sound if you've never seen Weird Al's "Fat" music video. It's hilarious and great to hear the Imagine Dragon's original epic composition fit to Al singing "I'm really inactive, I'm so attractive" in his classic style.
Weird Al also takes on Pharrel's massively popular "Happy" and some possibly indiscriminate Foo Fighters song with "My Own Eyes". Admittedly, I had no idea "My Own Eyes" was supposed to be a Foo Fighters rip off because there isn't anything distinct enough in the song for me to get the reference. It's still funny, but not the strongest on the album, which can be said about a few songs on Mandatory Fun. The "Happy" parody, "Tacky," however, is a different story. It lines up with the original flawlessly, but whereas I am sick to death of anyone even saying the word "happy" to me anymore after the original song's release, Weird Al makes the beat tolerable and danceable again by detailing taking selfies at funerals, instagramming food, and wearing stripes with plaid. I'd way rather pump up the jams with Weird Al than any Grammy nominee.
Each song has it's own way of making you laugh, either ironically or in spite of yourself. "NOW That's What I Call Polka" makes a polka medley of multiple songs by Miley Cyrus, Foster the People, One Direction, and numerous other artists. Weird Al is the only artist I've ever heard that can make people want to dance to polka. Don't believe me? I dare you not to party down listening to his mix. In that same vein is "First World Problems" which is exactly how it sounds, sort of a mix of "Tacky" and "Word Crimes" pointing out social flaws that are spurred by our own spoiled nature. But, the way Weird Al sings about "First World Problems" belays any negative or cynical overtones. It's just not the way Weird Al rolls; he's always positive, even when he is pointing out how much of a big shit someone is. He talks about not having small enough bills for the vending machine, buying too many groceries for his refrigerator, and not having gluten-free cookies at the airport. The pain! The anguish! The unbelievable selfish privilege.  Way to go Weird Al, you turned a sarcastic hashtag into a living, breathing, anthem directed at every person you've ever wanted to slap sense into.
I've been listening to Weird Al since I was 10 years old. I listened to 1999's Running With Scissors constantly, and throughout my musical exploration he has remained a constant in my repertoire for the last 15 years. What's his staying power? Personally, he makes me literally happy. Whether you're laughing because of the derivation from the original song or just laughing at Weird Al as a lyrical artist, you're still laughing. As previously stated, the man has been doing this for more than 30 years, which is exactly infinity times longer than any of the one hit wonders he imitates.
I hadn't even listened to many of the original songs before I heard Weird Al's parodies. Which is great, because his mockeries just draw more people to the originals. I honestly couldn't give a damn about almost anything played on the radio, but Weird Al makes me care because I want to compare and contrast his songs with theirs. It's an odd situation considering Weird Al has caught heat in the past for imitating artists like Coolio, but Weird Al's career has spanned far beyond the 90s rap artist. I'm sure the same will be true when Weird Al is made supreme comedy overlord and no one will know who the hell One Direction is.
Mandatory Fun is not the greatest musical achievement of the year, and it's replay value is limited, but, who cares? The album is purely enjoyable no matter what, and it emanates a feeling of carefree fun. Cut loose, dance in your socks and underwear, bust out your whoopee cushions and listen to Weird Al. If there is an artist that can reach 10 year olds, 25 year olds, and 45 year olds alike with comedy in the form of parodied music, then just embrace it and party on. Dance it out to some polka. You know you want to.