Friday, July 25, 2014

"Straight Outta Lynwood" by "Weird Al" Yankovic

Now we're going back substantially enough to be in a different part of my life: I was in high school when Weird Al's 2006 album hit the scene, and I remember that clearly because I overheard some of the other students, the kind of people who normally would never have listened to Al apart from maybe a few obvious tracks, singing 'White & Nerdy,' the new single which had found itself on the Top 10. I believe the video was getting a lot of airtime. As of my writing this, Straight Outta Lynwood came out nearly eight years ago, which is bizarre to think about, because a lot of the tracks seem so fresh in my mind. That's probably because it's such a good album, in my opinion. Of the 2000s Al albums it's definitely my favourite, being rife with good parodies and funny tracks.

White & Nerdy
Probably one of Al's most famous parodies these days, it takes a rap I've never heard by some guy I've never heard of outside a Weird Al context and fills it with masterful lyrics about being a nerd. This song is very much the follow-up thematically speaking to 'It's All About The Pentiums,' featuring as it does innumerable comments about elements of culture which run the full gamut of 'nerdy' and 'geeky': MIT, Stephen Hawking, calculus and chess as well as D&D, action figures, Star Trek and X-Men. It's kind of interesting, actually, because it's very much the sort of cliché presentation of nerdy people, and satirising the fact that really you can boast about anything if you accompany it with 'badass' sounding music. The reason I say it's interesting is because, as I've approached expressing on this blog before, there's actually often a substantial divide between the things I've categorised first as academic pursuits, and the others as being cultural ones, and a certain percentage of 'geeks' who like comic books and sci-fi are actually fatuous anti-intellectual dullards with unconcealed resentment of the fact that society thinks they're intelligent but they actually aren't. As such I really see this song more in the sense of poking a little harmless fun at hip-hop or rap culture, suggesting that you can talk a big game about anything if you put your mind to it: in the end it's all just hot air.

Weirdly enough, it's a song about a bodily organ where Al never says 'internal organ,' which is of course one of his favourite phrases. It's basically just a style parody of the Beach Boys, especially stuff like 'Good Vibrations,' except about the human pancreas. My favourite part is probably where Al somehow works into the lyrics Newton's formula of universal gravitation, which is to say that the gravitational force between two objects is the product of their mass divided by the square of the distance between them multiplied by the universal gravitation constant. Well, it's simplified from that, but it's still clever. It's probably the oddest item on the Straight Outta Lynwood menu but it has its place.

Canadian Idiot
The title change is probably about as obvious as the satirical content is sharp in this, probably the most keenly-observed track on the album. The basic gist is using lyrics ostensibly expressing a stereotypical view of Canada to poke fun at stupid things about America: their ineffective gun laws, their pollution, their poor public health system and their high crime rates. The joke, of course, is the singer acting like Canada's numerous serious social advantages over the USA are outweighed by trivial elements of Canadian culture. Coming as it does right in the middle of George W. Bush's second term as president, the line about 'a preemptive strike' is probably the most cutting line in the piece. It's probably one of the most political songs Al's written in quite a while, if not ever.

I'll Sue Ya
Making jokes about the supposed American obsession with litigation is maybe a bit passé these days but when this came out it was spot on during a period in which there was as much humour about frivolous lawsuits as there were frivolous lawsuits. The funniest lines are probably the ones about suing "Delta Airlines/'Cause they sold me a ticket to New Jersey - I went there, and it sucked," as well as "Fruit Of The Loom/'Cause when I wear my tighty-whities on my head I look like a jerk" and "Ben Affleck/Aww, do I even need a reason?" not because they're the most groundless but because the have the least to do with the actual defendants suggested. The final repetition of "I'll sue ya if you even look at me funny," is good too. It's one of my songs of choice on the album.

I actually knew a handful of the tracks from this, mostly from the radio on the way to school and things the other kids used to sing in the corridors: 'Let's Get It Started,' 'Take Me Out' of course, 'Speed of Sound' and 'Somebody Told Me.' The opening with the Chicken Dance sets the mood very well, and this is a very fun polka to sing along to because of its pacing and the way in which Al censors some of the lyrics of the source material. The polka version of 'Drop It Like It's Hot' is particularly amusing when the subject matter is contrasted to the tune. There's a gunshot sound in 'Take Me Out' to reference other lyrics from the original too. I don't think there are any questionable polkas but this is definitely one of the best, and fits the general tone of music featured in the albums from this period very well.

Virus Alert
Here's our 'Al lists a bunch of stuff as lyrics' track of the album, but they're very funny lyrics, and I enjoy the implication that the 'virus alert' is itself a virus trying to fool people into spreading it. There's comedy to be done about the fake antivirus software that is actually itself a virus. It's of course also part of Al's more recent tread of technology-themed music and obviously forms a fairly clear link through from the first to the final track on the album. I'm not familiar with the band of which this is a style parody, but it's amusing nonetheless. Preferential lines include the idea that it will erase "the hard drive of anyone related to you" and that "It's gonna melt your face right off your skull/And make your iPod only play Jethro Tull." This is particularly amusing to me because there is a very divided opinion regarding Jethro Tull in my household - I personally, for reasons I can't actually articulate, find their music quite irritating. It's another instalment on the album which to which it is very entertaining to sing along.

Confessions Part III
Another listing song, in my opinion this is the funniest song on the album. It's a parody of a rap song ('Confessions Part II') but presents itself as following on from the revelation of the arguably serious but nonetheless generic 'angsty' indiscretions of a man towards his partner with an unrelated series of trivial, bizarre and ridiculous matters to which he also needs to own up. My favourite lines are "Once I blew my nose and then I wiped it on your cat" and the line which put tears of mirth in my eyes when I was recently refreshing my memory of this album after a long time, "remember when I told you that I knew Pauley Shore, Pauley Shore/That's a lie, I don't know what I said that for." For whatever reason, that kind of humour particularly cracks me up. I think I like the idea that he is confused himself as to why he ever told that lie in the first place. Thinking about it now has me chuckling. Another great moment is when Al sets up the rhyme "I shouldn't say anymore/'Til I give you part four." I think I just really like the idea of a humorous addendum to someone else's serious composition. It's a really clever parody in my view, especially as a send up of these kind of absurd acts of contrition, often about misdeeds that would probably ruin the other person's life.

Weasel Stomping Day
It's the novelty item, here portraying a moronic national holiday about murdering innocent furry animals. The most overtly satirical line is "It's tradition, that makes it okay." If there's a theme to this album besides technology, it might also be considered the 'stupid American culture' album which satirises some of the hypocrisies and insecurities at the heart of the land of the free and the home of the brave. There's not much to say about it. The grotesque squelching noises were made by Al and co crushing watermelons, incidentally. It's an amusing little breather.

Close But No Cigar
Did I leave this off my list of Al's "self-love" songs? I did. Let me correct that, hang on. Okay, here we go. 'Close But No Cigar' is the first of two on this album of Al's customary compositions putting a humorous spin on traditional love songs, this one being about a guy who has absurdly high standards about completely amazing women, repeatedly finding utterly contrived and negligible reasons to break up with them. It's a pretty clear style parody of Cake, and arguably has some comparable lyrics to some of their songs, but turns them into unreasonable and arrogant complaints instead of desires. Jillian's oversized earlobe is probably meant to be a reference to the Short Skirt and Long Jacket, I expect. Part of the joke, I would argue, is the way that the singer makes obnoxious comparisons like "crazy like Manson about her" and "all choked up like Mama Cass" as well as stock cliché remarks like the title lyric. Of course he's mostly interested in them for their looks and prestige. My favourite lines include the one about "sweating like Nixon," which has become a favourite simile of mine, and "Are we doing government work here?" which tops off the lyrical theme as being both obnoxious and a cliché. It's a very intelligent portrayal of this kind of attitude, a funny and very entertaining song. The animated video clip is also extremely effective, personifying this kind of attitude in the shape of a cat: giving bad gifts and chewing the women up when he gets tired of them.

Do I Creep You Out
It's a song about a stalker, and as such it's kind of the complete opposite of 'Close But No Cigar,' lyrically speaking, although it's also a parody of a song I've never heard. The funniest element of it is how little it really takes to turn stereotypical 'love' lyrics into extremely 'creepy' ones about invasion of privacy and general obsession: "Call you every night/And hang up." The best one, of course, is the opening: "I know that you don't know me very well/We've barely met, but I can surely tell/No one will ever love you like I do." It's worryingly close to actual love song lyrics, but also funny as an expression of the way these kinds of insane infatuations develop. My favourite line, however, is "Every time I shake your hand now/Wanna stick your fingers in my mouth." Some of the other lyrics, about going through the garbage and sniffing people are quite common fare with the subject matter, but that one's extra amusing for how over the top and weirdly intimate it is. It's of course very similar to Al's other stalker song, 'Melanie' from Even Worse. I also like the implication that the stalker is a colleague or distant social acquaintance of the person being stalked - not that I think stalking is funny, but because it just adds an extra layer of amusing creepiness to the whole concoction. I might, to draw another comparison of this type, direct listeners towards 'You Don't Like Me' from They Might Be Giants' Join Us album, or perhaps their miscellaneous track 'I'm Your Boyfriend Now.' I wonder if Al or someone he knows has first hand experience with stalkers - it's worryingly probable in the trade, I suppose.

Trapped In The Drive-Thru
I believe the actual track being parodied here is a complete 'hip hop opera' as it is called, featuring typical hip hop subjects and surreptitious midgets. Anyway, Al continues his theme of subverting this kind of media by turning it into a story about a middle-class and probably white couple going to get burgers one night. There's a lot of classic Al humour in here: the couple with the tense, passive-aggressive relationship, the awkward and embarrassing moments, and of course food. It might even be possible to read it as a kind of satire of the assimilation of hip hop culture by the West during this period, expressing what such music would be like if it was actually relevant to the middle-class Western culture which has capitalised upon its popularity. The most humours bits are probably the repetition ("Did I mention the drive-thru?") and overemphasis of mundane actions ("Put my key in the ignition/Then I turn it sideways") as well as the various reactions of the people at the store, especially 'Eugene' and the wife's suspicion of why the husband's voice is familiar to the girl who takes the order. The final gag about the missing onions is predictable but funny for that very reason. This is the kind of material which represents Al putting his best foot forward in terms of satire, which contributes to how effective this whole album is.

Don't Download This Song
The last song on the album is also of course the final technology-themed track. It's a good example of Al's usual satirical leanings: it pokes fun not only at internet pirates but also at the hyperbole which comes from the music industry for example regarding piracy. We get a slippery slope fallacy ("'Cause you start out stealing songs and then you're robbing liquor stores/And selling crack and running over school kids with your car") and an ad hominem fallacy ("They'll treat you like the evil hard-bitten criminal scum you are") as well as amusing references to, for instance, Lars Ulrich. The line about not being able to afford solid-golden hum vees is particularly apposite. It's also, of course, parodying charity songs of the 'Aid for Africa' variety and turning them into something very self-serving. As I've argued with some of these songs, one of Al's greatest talents with his parody work is probably lampooning how seriously a lot of people and businesses take themselves. At the same time here he manages to put out an anti-piracy message in a way that doesn't whitewash a lot of the hypocrisies of the issue.

Straight Outta Lynwood is Weird Al in fine form, I would argue, mixing more whimsical humour with effective satire in a humorous blend. The music video for 'White & Nerdy' is probably the most recent example of a classic Weird Al video with lots of background gags and rapid-fire comedy. There's additional footage of Donny Osmond that gets used in concerts which is worth seeing as well. Examples can be found on the Alpocalypse live DVD. There are animated videos as well, with very straightforward interpretations for 'I'll Sue Ya,' 'Do I Creep You Out' and 'Trapped In The Drive-Thru' along with more off-the-wall ones like 'Close But No Cigar.' Overall this is a timely and well assembled album with an important but I think somewhat overlooked place in the Weird Al catalogue.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Alpocalypse" by "Weird Al" Yankovic

In late 2008 Weird Al started releasing singles online, which were eventually compiled into an EP called Internet Leaks. There were some good tracks to be heard along the way, but it left us wondering: what of a follow-up album to Straight Outta Lynwood? Well it would be a few more years before such an album came along, but it finally did in the shape of Alpocalypse. I remember secretly hoping at the time that all the tracks might be new, but for better or worse it was not to be; just under half the content of Alpocalypse were the Internet Leaks tracks. That's fine, but it makes Alpocalypse feel like an odd beast, because some of the tracks on it I don't actually associate mentally with the album on which they're to be found, and as a result I personally find it to be a bit weird to listen to, as it sort of jolts me back and forward through time, from tracks released at different points to a set of new material released simultaneously. You'd probably have to be a bit of a Weird Al nerd like myself to notice or care, however. The album art is some of the funniest in a while, imitating as it does the generally apocalyptic imagery typical of a number of metal album covers but with one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse replaced by a cheerily-waving Al. It's always good for a laugh when he juxtaposes his own style with one both very different to his own and which in at least some of its innumerable permutations takes itself very seriously.

Perform This Way
Not unlike 'Smells Like Nirvana' or 'Achy Breaky Song' this is a parody which changes the lyrics to focus on the original artist or song rather than simply giving them a different theme. As such it's a Lady Gaga parody about Lady Gaga. In all honesty Lada Gaga kind of passed me by - I know almost nothing about her and have listened to very few of her songs, only 'Bad Romance' and 'Alejandro' really, so this probably had less relevance to me than it did to people more tuned into pop culture. Now that it's three years later as of my writing and no one could give a shit about Lady Gaga anymore while Al just topped the charts for the first time in his career it seems strangely antique. Check out the video for the disturbing image of Al, who has rather prominent cheekbones and a strong jaw, edited onto the body of a young woman.

I have no idea who Charles Nelson Reilly was (an actor apparently) but it's very much in the vein of "Chuck Norris facts" and the like, so it seems like Al trying to keep his finger on the button but in an off the wall way. It's probably more meaningful to people who grew up in the USA. In that way it's kind of reminiscent of 'Here's Johnny' on Polka Party. The White Stripes style parody is pretty effective. My favourite lyrics are probably "He could throw you down a flight of stairs/But you still would love him anyway" and "He'd bash your face in with a shovel/If you didn't treat him like a star" because they're just more blatant than the weirder lyrics about him eating cars and so on, although the line about the laser beam eyes raises a smile. The animated video for this one is good for a laugh as well, with Al and Bermuda (his drummer) in the White Stripes roles.

Here's the next parody on the album, and another bit of American culture that was lost on me until I looked it up. Putting the title aside, though, it's a song about the paparazzi and tabloid journalism, really, and has the biting final remarks where it offers a counterpoint to the intrusiveness of the industry: They also reveal when famous people have done dubious things. I don't know what Taylor Swift has released lately either so this one also seems very much like a track of the early 2010s, as arbitrary as that delineation might be. The funniest bit is probably the spoken sequence where one of the tabloid-style headlines is the not-remotely-newsworthy "Look who's drinking coffee!" It's a fun one to sing along to.

Skipper Dan
Probably my favourite track on the album, it deals with a more unusual topic: failed actors who run the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland. This is another sing-along song with a thumping chorus and a catchy beat. The topic matter is amusingly cynical about the difficulty of 'making it' in the arts and how the more boring alternatives are also generally safer and more profitable. I'd be curious to know what Disney, who seem fairly sensitive about their image, think of it. This is another style parody, again of a band of which I've never heard, but this kind of song is proof of the fact that you don't really need to know the song to enjoy a Weird Al composition.

Polka Face
This was probably the first polka medley where I'd already heard more than a tiny fraction of the original songs beforehand, because this was a brief period where I was probably going out more and more exposed to popular music than I was before or have been since. Here we have another appearance of Lady Gaga, and it's a bit of an oddity in that the 'Poker Face' part occurs at the beginning and the end of the polka, which I'm fairly sure is unprecedented. A lot of other inclusions here, like Bieber, Katy Perry, Britney Spears and the like are predictable but once again reveal how much generic pop music can be substantially improved by the catchier beat and more interesting instruments of polka music (although personally I don't think it helps the Bieber track much), while inclusions of elements from Lady Antebellum and Owl City help to mix things up a bit. This is a polka with a lot of different tracks, and it gives the medley good pacing. In my opinion it's another of the strongest tracks on the album.

If I'm going to be perfectly honest this is probably my least favourite track on the album simply because I don't find the Doors particularly engaging to listen to and this is a style parody of them. Once again, however, it shows Al working to keep up to date with current online trends - as a general rule this album feels very much like an internet-themed album, which is appropriate enough considering the manner in which many of the tracks including this one were originally released. It's very similar lyrically to 'eBay' from Poodle Hat. My favourite line is probably about the styrofoam peanuts and how the garbage can in which they're stored isn't part of the deal.

Party in the CIA
I wonder if this track would have hit a bit too close to home were it to have existed around the time of Straight Outta Lynwood or Poodle Hat? Regardless, it's one of the more satirical songs on the album, taking as it does generic vaguely patriotic nonsense pop and turning it into a mocking celebration of the hypocrisy and ruthlessness of Western governments in protecting their interests overseas and dealing with their enemies. I guess you could consider it just a silly song where the tone of the music contrasts to the lyrical subject matter, but featuring upbeat lyrics about assassination, espionage and torture it can be read as a rather brutal indictment of the 'my country right or wrong' sanctimoniousness of people who would defend or support the harsh manipulation of other nations and the denial of their sovereignty, as well as a 'fighting fire with fire' approach to threats like terrorism. It's got a lot of amusing lyrics like "No hurry on this South American dictator/I'll assasinate him later" and "We only torture the folks we don't like" and is another good one to sing along to.

While I find this song enjoyable to sing along to, and it gets better as it progresses, it's one where the lyrical content is surprisingly limited, mostly about how the persona of the song has an annoying ringtone and how it irritates people as a result. There aren't actually any funny lyrics about what makes for an annoying ringtone, just that it is annoying and people don't like it. It seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. It's vaguely in the style of Queen, which is one of the aspects that means it is entertaining nonetheless. The funniest parts are probably the line about how he won't delete it because "I hate to waste a buck ninety-nine" and the bizarre list at the end of different groups of people who hate his ringtone. It might grow on you but I think the subject matter had more potential. Once again, of course, it's a song showing Al's interest in this period in keeping up to date with cultural trends in technology.

Another Tattoo
Here's a classic-style "Al gets to list a bunch of stuff as lyrics" song which also substantially improves, probably through Al's vocals, a song I otherwise consider to be rather unpleasant to the ear. It's also, of course, possibly a bit of a commentary on the kind of person who might listen to 'Nothin' on You' (although I really wouldn't know) and is complimented by the sarcastic backing vocals that ask "Really?" when he says people are impressed by the tattoos. The funniest line is probably "Check out this rad Boba Fett, he's playin' clarinet!" which is accompanied by an amusing image in the animated music video for this one. I'd be curious to know what Al's actual opinions on tattoos are because this is definitely not a flattering depiction of the kind of people that get a lot of them, arguably portraying it as an over-compensatory and unhealthy obsession of insecure and dysfunctional people with chips on their shoulders. The two harshest lines are probably "I've got all of my ex-wives on my chest" and "Whenever folks see me, they just back away." In that regard it might actually be exploiting a stereotype for humour.

If That Isn't Love
Here of course we find what I'm going to classify as the Weird Al "self-love" song as it were, the joke in particular in this case being all the effortless and condescending things one person in a relationship does while portraying them as selfless romantic gestures. Apparently it's meant to be a style parody of Hanson, although I'm not especially familiar with them. I suppose to some points of view Weird Al might be a bit wasted on me as a parody artist. This song gets bonus points for the use of the phrase "big fat turd" as a rhyme. It's of course part of the same thematic space in Weird Al's discography as 'Such a Groovy Guy,' 'Good Enough For Now,' possibly 'I Was Only Kidding,' 'Wanna B Ur Lovr,' and 'Close But No Cigar' which incidentally are all original compositions rather than parodies. It's a worthy addition to that elite club of tracks.

Whatever You Like
I have absolutely no idea about the song with the same title upon which this parody is based, but this is a very timely and context-specific Al track, focusing in particular as it does on the Global Financial Crisis and self-imposed austerity measures. In a sense it's not altogether dissimilar to the previous track, as here the subject matter is the persona of the song portraying himself as extremely generous and cool for all his incredibly cheap, unglamorous cost-cutting measures in his relationship. The funniest lines are probably the mentions of "Burger King or Mickey Ds" as possible dining establishments, the portrayed free entertainment value of sitting at the laundromat to "watch the clothes go round and round," how he's "all about the Washingtons" (one dollar bills for those unfamiliar with American currency - typically it's "Benjamins": hundreds) and how he "Ran myself a cable from my neighbour next door/Now we can get free HBO." I also like the line about how the lady, after liposuction, "could be second-runner-up Miss Ohio" which has nothing to do with the economic situation. As a song of its time it is, not unlike 'Party in the CIA' potentially a bit of a jab at the dubious goings-on of Western societies; it's the economic parallel to 'Party in the CIA's politics. I enjoy it, although by the time the album was out this track was nearly three years old, and hearing it here feels a bit weird.

Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me
Concluding the idea of Alpocalypse as the 'internet album' this is a funny Jim Steinman style parody which gets a lot of mileage both out of the musical style being pastiched and the wide variety of different kinds of junk mail that idiots forward to their friends and correspondents thinking that it's either hilarious or enlightening, when most of it is either lame or simply untrue or misleading. Interestingly, this actually introduced me to a few hoaxes of which I was not aware, such as the one about Mr Rogers, which came in handy this time at a video game shop where I shot down some guy who was excitedly telling a shop assistant that the children's TV host had done wet-work in 'Nam. Lines of choice here include "in what alternate reality/Would I care about something like that?" and "I highly doubt some dead girl's gonna kill me/If I don't pass your letter along." All the hoax stuff also fits well with the album title's dig at the ludicrous suggestions certain occultist groups were making that the world would end in 2012, which compensates somewhat for the fact that this song could probably have been released about ten years earlier than it was and still have been just as meaningful, if not moreso. For whatever reason I was exposed to a lot of Meat Loaf in my adolescence (the musician, not the food, and in musical form, not in person) so I'm pretty familiar with Steinman's style, which the subject matter here inexplicably fits. Typically Steinman's style draws out an almost melodramatic sense of immense passion, and much of the humour here derives from how this can be adapted to express colossal exasperation and weariness with the obvious untruth of most chain-email internet rumours. It's a strong conclusion to the album.

Alpocalypse is, as I stated in my introduction, a curious item because of the way many of its tracks were released, but one thing I can say about it is that it's primarily a funny album with plenty of upbeat, brisk tunes, although it nonetheless has a fair bit of satirical bite in a couple of tracks as well. It's also very much the exemplar of Al reaching the point where he's moved on mostly from making jokes about food and TV to making jokes about the internet, with at least three of the tracks having a fairly overt 'technology' theme. It's arguably not one of the most noteworthy items in the Al discography, but it's nonetheless a funny and reasonably solid album that's a good indicator of some of the shifts in his lyrical focus as well as the musical direction of the time. One day in the future I daresay people will use Weird Al as a means of charting the ever-mutable nature of pop music.

Monday, July 21, 2014

"Mandatory Fun" by "Weird Al" Yankovic

What is it with being a big nerd and liking Weird Al? I don't know, but I do know that when I was a kid listening to Weird Al made me feel like it was okay to be "weird" - a common schoolyard insult - and that maybe being weird meant having your own fun. I don't know what I'm on about. My point is, I like Weird Al. And by "I like Weird Al" I don't mean "I can remember some of the lyrics to 'Amish Paradise'." I'm not some kind of small Weird Al fan. What I mean is that if Al's out here, I'll go to as many shows as he does in my home town, as in I've met him twice, as in I could recite most (but not all, I admit) of the lyrics to most of his songs - albeit maybe with a little musical prompting. I'm not going to say I'm like the guy with the chip in his head that plays Yoda like in the Weird Al "There's No Going Home" short - my knowledge of which might also be suggestive - but rather I just want to suggest that I'm a reasonably substantial enthusiast for Weird Al. So I like to think that I know what I'm talking about when it comes to Al, although in terms of general musical knowledge I'm a complete ignoramus. My taste in music is scattergun and inconsistent, I can only play the piano very badly and I know nothing of any other instruments, writing music or musicianship.

So Weird Al's new album is out. It's called Mandatory Fun. It's his last album on a recording contract he's had for decades and its artwork is themed around communist propaganda. As usual it follows Weird Al's regular pattern of taking the popular music scene from the last couple of years and improving it by updating catchy if shallow pop music with more interesting and intelligent lyrics, along with a bit of pastiche and satire. Let's check it out.

It's a parody of some pop song I've never heard by some singer I've never heard of. That's the thing about Weird Al: you can hear music you'd probably never listen to otherwise - at least if you're a shut-in like me who never hears anything current except by accident - and get a laugh out of it at the same time. Its lyrical content is very much along the lines of 'Hardware Store' from Poodle Hat, 'The Plumbing Song' from Off the Deep End and the never officially released Rembrandts parody "I'll Repair For You." In fact it even shares a lyric (sort of) with that unreleased track. It's pretty familiar ground for Weird Al, continuing as it does a theme reflecting the apparent American obsession with hardware and DIY.

Lame Claim to Fame
It's a style parody, but I don't know the band whose style is being imitated. Thematically comparable to They Might Be Giants' 'Famous Polka,' it's a reflection on the particular desire to construct a meaningful life narrative or self image around extremely tenuous, borderline non-existent connections with celebrities and famous and important people. Although as I say I don't know the band being pastiched, the sound does seem to reflect well with the kind of desperate self-delusion associated with this kind of behaviour. The lyrics also reflect a more recent Weird Al theme of the influence of social media and interactivity on culture.

It's a Weird Al food song with a twist, because the subject matter also lets him make jokes about conspiracy theories. This is another parody, this time of a song by a singer whose name I always get confused with those guys who dressed up in goblin suits and won Eurovision a few years ago. It's also the second time Weird Al finds an opportunity to use the phrase "doggie bag" in a song, which is always welcome. One might also see some lyrical similarities with 'Everything You Know Is Wrong.' It's also sort of the reverse of 'Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me' as well. I like the idea of someone simultaneously finding value in aluminium foil for both food storage and conspiracy theory reasons. I also find amusing the suggestion that the foil hat will be some kind of defence "if an alien's inclined/To probe your butt," which is an appropriately mandatory lyric considering the subject manner while totally inexplicable insofar as foil hats are concerned.

Sports Song
One of the more overtly satirical tracks on the album, this parodies what I believe are termed "fight songs" for sporting teams, particularly at the college level, in the USA. The lyrics present this kind of enthusiasm as meaningless bravado-laden posturing which comes down to one side bigging itself up while slandering the opposition. It's the classic Weird Al method of taking an arguably pretentious musical style and replacing it with straightforward and self-reflexive lyrics, not unlike 'Don't Download This Song' or 'This Song's Just Six Words Long.' Observe that these are all songs that are aware of the fact that they're songs.

Word Crimes
Another parody of a song I don't know by a musician I don't know. Here Weird Al flexes his talent for creative wordplay and skilful rhyming of technical language, as well as a good opportunity for mentioning how "could care less" is a misuse which actually contradicts the intended meaning and how irony is not coincidence. It's also arguably a less family friendly instalment than some, Al managing to find a place for the phrase "cunning linguist" as well as an unfortunate rhyme that he apparently didn't realise was more offensive in some parts of the world than others. It's of course a particularly cutting attack on the fatuous illiteracy of many online commenters, while simultaneously satirising the sanctimoniousness and affected superiority of grammar perfectionists, an aspect which some of its critics have seemingly missed. 

My Own Eyes
It's a style parody of Foo Fighters apparently, whose music I probably have heard but wouldn't be able to identify if I heard it. They must be the guys who produce all that generic pop rock music you hear on the radio, because this sure sounds like one of those songs. The premise is about seeing strange things, I guess, and how you wish you could forget some things you've seen. It seems to be another one of those internet-themed ones, albeit taking a relatively soft approach which leans far more towards the simply strange than the genuinely horrific and disturbing, which might be an exercise for a different kind of musical humorist.

NOW That's What I Call Polka!
Despite how little I keep up to date with pop music, I was surprised by how many songs were present in this medley which I recognised, although some of them barely and there don't seem to be a huge number in general. There are some extremely predictable but nonetheless amusing inclusions, like Gangnam Style and Call Me Maybe, along with some more unexpected ones, I would argue, like that Gotye song. Apparently these things are a nightmare to put together in terms of rights and royalties and Al might never officially release one again. They're still fun, though, and one can't help but think, in my opinion, that a number of these songs are rather substantially improved by the polka treatment. The medley particularly begins and ends well, to my mind. The final inclusion, Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky,' was a shoe in but is put to work in exactly the right way. It might be one of the strongest tracks on the album.

Mission Statement
It's a style parody of Crosby, Stills and Nash where the lyrics are entirely composed of empty corporate jargon. It's not one of the funniest songs Al's released in a while, but it's definitely another of the most significantly satirical on the album. You could read it in several ways, I suppose, perhaps as an indictment of how the optimistic baby boomer generation gave rise to the corporatocracy of the present day, or how the corporate world unironically and with no awareness uses and abuses art which is entirely contradictory to it for the sake of its own agenda. It gives Mandatory Fun an edge that not all Weird Al albums have, and contributes significantly to my perception of this album as generally less whimsical and upbeat than some others, especially in contrast to this album's immediate precursor, Alpocalypse.

I think I've heard the song this is parodying, but I'm not sure. It takes one of Al's favourite themes - being fat and gluttonous - and adds to it a new element: being lazy. Perhaps due to the constraints of the source material the lyrics don't have the flexibility that they might, but the music's sluggishness, lethargy and dark tone generally contribute to a surprisingly bleak image of apathy and hopelessness. A more negative person than myself might actually be able to interpret this song as an image of depression brought on by consumer-culture-prompted indolence. That's Weird Al for you!

First World Problems
Here's Weird Al once again seizing upon internet culture and keeping relatively up to date with common trends, although some of the 'First World Problems' here feel more specifically like 'Rich World Problems.' Nonetheless the lyrics are rather acute in addressing some of the rather petty issues that trouble luxuriant citizens of the west like ourselves, such as mild social embarrassment and having too much of necessities like food and rest. The musical style, evoking 'The Pixies' apparently, gives an appropriate shade of the pathetic to complaining about trivial issues.

The album's big parody, I've actually heard the song that is the source of this one. The tone of the music blends very well with lyrics which, to my satisfaction, cover a broad spectrum of tackiness: tacky appearance, tacky behaviour, tacky priorities and values, which fits because arguably the music itself is a bit on the tacky side. Interestingly its lyrical material ties in to a degree with 'Lame Claim to Fame' which might explain why these two tracks are so separated, although admittedly 'Sports Song' and 'Word Crimes' both make jokes about figurative and literal meanings and they appear one after the other. The music video for this song is fun too.

Jackson Park Express
Apparently it's a style parody of Cat Stevens. I guess I need to listen to more Cat Stevens. This is the 'long song' on the album, something Al's been doing since Running with Scissors (except on Alpocalypse) and which in its narrative style harks back to the patriarch of long Weird Al travelling songs, 'The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota' from UHF, although this one probably has the most in common with 'Albuquerque' in terms of its grotesque imagery and non-sequiturs. It's about a guy who fantasises a deep connection with a girl he sees on the bus through interpreting vague gestures and fleeting moments of non-vocal contact, and tries to communicate in kind, all while riding the bus. This also shares some themes, albeit different ones, with 'Lame Claim to Fame.' It's basically a way for Al to make a whole bunch of jokes that subvert the typical lyrics and narratives of love songs, as he is wont to do. It's not nearly as episodic as 'Albuquerque,' however, nor does it rhyme like 'Biggest Ball of Twine' or 'Trapped in the Drive Thru.' ('Genius in France' of course fits both of these categories) As such it's going to be a job to learn the lyrics. If it's to stand as the last track ever on a Weird Al album, assuming he devotes his career now to releases as they happen, it's a good summation of one of the recurring elements of his general style: humour poking fun at how seriously the mainstream music industry takes itself regarding cliché and repetitive subject matter.

Mandatory Fun is a pretty solid album. It's backed up by eight music videos, but produced as they are by the various comedy groups and sites with which Al has become associated in recent years, none of them are really the kind of background-joke and visual-gag laden extravaganzas that we haven't, in all honesty, seen since 'White & Nerdy.' My personal picks for the videos are 'Tacky,' where Al's guests have a lot of fun with the task of miming his singing in garish outfits, and 'Lame Claim to Fame' which uses a combined live action and animated style very creatively. 'Word Crimes' and 'Mission Statement' utilise lyrical representations more in common with the animated videos of recent albums past, the latter effectively featuring TruScribe which has been employed in a fair bit of recent visualisation for material such as lectures and academic papers criticising certain corporate trends in recent years. 'Foil,' 'Handy,' 'Sports Song' and 'First World Problems' all have fairly straightforward videos, with the last of those being probably the most amusing, featuring as it does Al marching around suburban Hollywood (by the looks of things) in long socks as a lonely, frustrated, rich layabout fuming and raging over minor inconveniences. It's like all those times he does his "pulling twisted angry faces" shtick rolled into one.

As I've already said, Mandatory Fun is arguably not as upbeat as some Weird Al albums of recent years, but it's got a bit of bite to it, and it's a good example of an Al production with plenty of memorable parodies and originals, although being biased I tend to think that's mostly true of all of them. I'd give it a hearty recommendation - as long as you're not one of those small Weird Al fans.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

"The Time of the Doctor"

A new one in each issue, only £14.99 a week.
"The Sixty Minute Televisual Crime of the Doctor." Ugh. Why do I do this to myself? Well, it took me over six months to muster up the effort to sit through the 2013 New Who Christmas Special again and here we are at review time. This is a weird episode, because not only is it the aforementioned Christmas instalment but it is also Matt Smith's final feature as the Doctor. The Christmas references are fairly perfunctory, but they are nonetheless as present and pointless as ever. We begin with a Moffat favourite from Series 7: an introductory voiceover. Do you know how many times real Doctor Who did voiceovers? As far as I'm aware, precisely once, in the first episode of "The Deadly Assassin." That was the first story to be entirely set on Gallifrey - although we had seen it previously in Part 10 of "The War Games" and in cutaways during "The Three Doctors" - and it was a big deal. It was, as it were, an event. These days every other episode is an "event" or a "blockbuster," which is to say they're dusting off some costumes or stretching the CGI budget, so I suppose I should hardly be surprised. It doesn't make the use of voiceovers any less inept, in my opinion. This reveals some message heard throughout the universe which brings ships from all the various Doctor Who aliens to circle around in orbit. That is to say, it's basically the same scenario as "The Pandorica Opens" from Series 5, Matt Smith's first series. Is Moffat trying to show how we've come full circle, or could he just not be arsed with a new idea? I'll leave that one up to you.
"I'm just... just fixing a Dalek eyestalk..."
Moffat has not abandoned his penchant for obnoxious twee twaddle, however, and the Doctor, arriving on the scene, is described as "The Man Who Stayed For Christmas." I think the cringe will break my face. He shows up in some area that's obviously a Dalek ship waving a Dalek eye stalk around saying he's come in peace. He also wears a cloak for no discernible reason. The Daleks show up feeling cross and he neatly teleports away, complaining to a damaged Cyberman head attached to the TARDIS console that it needs to be more careful where it sends him. I'm not sure why he hadn't figured that out himself, but in actual fact it's just pure, senseless time wasting for the sake of a joke. The TARDIS phone rings and Smithy sets up a long winded subplot with the Cyberman head involving the need to remind him to make it start ringing inside again rather than in the dummy box on the outside, which I suppose is an effort to justify that pointless set piece in the Anniversary Special where he was hanging from the ship in mid air. Back on Earth in the present day Clara implores the Doctor to impersonate her boyfriend at Christmas dinner. He goes into full on Leslie Phillips mode exclaiming "ding dong!" and telling her that he "may be a bit rusty in some areas." It's mildly amusing but it's also crass and unnecessary. Clara's accent slips as usual when she tells him to "shoot oop" and Murray Gold's "silly" theme starts playing so that we don't accidentally think the scene is serious. The Doctor makes one more expedition to a nearby ship with his Cyber-head: it's of course a Cyberman ship, and the joke from the beginning gets repeated. As openings go, it's a load of directionless pointless waffle indicative of the already obvious fact that the people making this thing have no idea what to do with it. The titles roll.
"Dad, why don't you tell us the story of the time you
got a face transplant and aged twenty years in eight?"
So Clara has a few random family members around: a grandmother who says pointless things, a nonspecific lady and a man who is apparently her father. I guess they had to recast because last time we saw her father he looked like he was Clara's only slightly older brother. Clara enters the TARDIS to discover the Smith strutting around in the nip because he's "going to Church." This doesn't get explained for a while. He uses some holographic device to project clothes into Clara's mind, scares her family by pratting about in front of them, as they can't see his holographic clothes, spanks Clara on the bum to fulfil the "boyfriend" role and helps Clara with the turkey by sticking it in the time engines or something in the TARDIS. Struggling to fill sixty minutes are we, Moffat? We also get a bit of casual racism when Clara attributes the Doctor's nudity to him being "Swedish". Then the Doctor and Clara piss off back to the planet, relatively arbitrarily as far as I can tell. Although all of the Doctor's biggest enemies are there, none of them seem to especially mind the TARDIS in their midst, even despite the Doctor repeatedly boarding their vehicles with bits of their dead kin. The planet is conveniently "shielded" which stops them from investigating the message, but Handles the Cyber-head reckons the planet is Gallifrey. Well that was quick, wasn't it? Guess we've wrapped up the new plot arc established in the previous episode already! The Doctor of course doesn't believe it, although he doesn't propose any way of checking.
Two hearts, thirteen lives, four bollocks.
A huge ship appears, which the Doctor reveals to be the "Papal Mainframe" which I believe was mentioned back in "A Good Man Goes To War" - and yes, I really am embarrassed to remember that. Some woman's gigantic hologram face appears on the side and beckons the Doctor over. It turns out that this "Papal Mainframe" ship is the one "shielding" the planet. Why don't the Daleks or someone blow them up then? Don't they have those giant planet cracker missiles from the Asylum episode? I shudder to recall it. Inside the ship we meet the "Mother Superious," a character named "Tasha Lem" aka the narrator of the opening and the hologram face on the ship, whose role seems to be "River Song substitute." She flirts with the Doctor, calling him "babes" among other things. The flirty dialogue is utterly wretched. Clara has to use some hologram thing too to project clothes onto her because "You can't go to Church with your clothes on." Why? It's never explained - it's just an excuse for Moffat to get everyone to say "naked" a bunch of times and probably because he wants to imagine Jenna Coleman with her kit off. Imagine if back in '63 you'd told Bill Hartnell that in fifty years time the character he pioneered would be pratting around talking about being naked in a space church. He'd spit his gin halfway across the publican's house. Smithy describes Clara as his "associate," struggling for some reason to say that she's his friend. Why? Is it meant to imply that he carries a bit of a torch for her or something? Urgh. Tasha Lem says she has "confidential matters" to discuss with the Doctor, heavily implying that they're making Clara stand out in the corridor while they bone in her room. The Doctor scoffs at Clara for suggesting to this effect, but the connotation's still the same: he treats Clara like a dick and as if she doesn't matter. I don't have much interest in Clara, but this bit really irritates me because it seems so out of character. It's all part of Moffat's annoying portrayal of the Doctor as this lying, secret-keeping anti-hero who always turns out to be a good guy in the end. While the Smith and Tasha Lem chinwag in her puritanical sex dungeon Clara gets menaced by a familiar figure: oh look, it's a Silent from Series 6. Long time no see. Turns out they work for the Church, I guess, and not the other way around.
"Steven said he likes them shaved."
Tasha Lem claims that the message from the planet is causing "fear" among the other species present, which seems awfully convenient, almost as convenient as the Church people getting there first to "shield" the planet. Nonetheless she's concerned about the possibility of conflict breaking out. There's some pointless waffle about the Doctor handing over his TARDIS key before he and Clara, all Silents forgotten, teleport down to the planet. It's cold on the surface so the Doctor essentially grabs and rubs his naked companion for warmth before Weeping Angels start grabbing them from the snow. It really is a Moffat-stravaganza. The Angels supposedly "must have got past Tasha's shield." That's also very convenient. How? Do they use ships, or do they just fly through space like the Fungi from Yuggoth? It doesn't matter because the Doctor reveals he's wearing a wig, whips out another TARDIS key and summons the TARDIS. Apart from a short moment later, that's the entire pointless cameo of the Angels. The scene where they actually appear from the snow is also clumsily shot and incoherent. The Doctor decides he needs to search for "The Mysterious Message." It's a phrase he likes, and it does have a ring to it. Baldness surprisingly works for him too - I believe he had to shave his head for a film role. With the TARDIS they head for the town where they spill the beans about themselves to a few locals due to a "truth field." Among other things this causes Clara to fess up that "I really fancy-" someone, presumably the Doctor. The New Who female companion is attracted to the Doctor? Zero points for originality Moffat, and besides, we've danced around this nonsense already. When they ask if the inability to lie makes anything difficult, the local woman replies "not at all" while the man remarks "yes." I don't even want to contemplate what's being implied there, although I expect it's Moffat's usual insane gender dynamics. Clara wonders how the town can be called "Christmas" but the Doctor retorts that the same could be asked of Easter Island. Well, it's called that because Jacob Roggeveen found it on Easter Sunday. What's the excuse for this alien town on some planet in deep space? Then again it's implied to be a human colony.
The message is coming from a sort of Church Hall type building in town, and inside the Doctor discovers another blast from the not especially distant past, a Time Crack of Series 5 fame. We get flashbacks to 2010 when New Who was briefly good. We also get this as the explanation for what was in the Doctor's room in "The God Complex." Was this really his greatest fear? The Doctor claims that the crack is still there because "the scar tissue remains, a structural weakness" in the universe. Doesn't this contradict the ending of "The Big Bang" which basically said that the cracks never existed? Maybe when Amy "remembered" the Doctor back into reality that ipso facto remembered the cracks too. Who knows. Someone's trying to send a message through the "weakest point" of the universe, along with the truth field, which explains why Handles the Head thought it was Gallifrey: the Time Lords are on the other side of the crack. In an unexpected reference to "The Five Doctors" the Smith whips out the Seal of the High Council which Pertwee took from Ainley in the Death Zone and Handles uses it to translate the message. There's a weird pointless bit where the head describes the message as a "request for information" and the Doctor fumes "Why can't you just say it's a question?" Why does it matter? Anyway the question is our "oldest question": so old that it dates back to ancient Who history, or rather "Let's Kill Hitler" of a few years ago, and because the Time Lords are sending it through "all time and space" that explains why it's so old. The question of course is "Doctor who" which is shown being played in this ridiculous drawn out fashion in the Dalek ships and so on: "Doctor whoooo?" I thought the explanation had something to do with John Hurt back in the Anniversary Special and "The Name of the Doctor" but apparently not. So the Time Lords want the Doctor to say his name so they know it's safe to come through. Why would they do it in such a contrived way, yet broadcast everywhere so everyone could hear it? Of course if they return the "Time War will begin again" blah blah blah so it doesn't seem like a good idea. The floating disembodied head of Tasha Lem reveals that the planet on which they're standing is Trenzalore, aka the site of the Doctor's supposed final battle, the ruins of which were seen in "The Name of the Doctor." But they're concerned that "The Time War will begin anew." Does Moffat keep having to riff on RTD's crap ideas? Clara gets sent home while Tasha Lem starts spouting off pseudo-medieval sounding dialogue like "This world will burn" and "The Siege of Trenzalore is now begun." The Doctor gets riled at Handles for being too specific. Why does he never tell any of these plums off with all the bollocks they spew constantly?
"Mark and I came up with a new setting for the Sonic.
It's going to make writing Series 8 much easier."

Tasha Lem declares that the Church's top priority is now "Silence," an overly elaborate way of saying preventing the Doctor from saying his name, which he seemingly doesn't want to do anyway. Ridiculously, the other Church soldiers all start chanting "Silence will fall." I guess that explains that catch phrase then. She goes back to narrating about how the Doctor defended the town from the alien interlopers trying to stop him from saying his name. He doesn't want to say his name because he knows the time isn't ripe for the Time Lords to return, so why doesn't he just leave? I suppose the Daleks or whoever might just blow up the innocent town to be on the safe side. Defending the town involves a handful of tokenistic attacks, like a couple of comedy Sontarans in an invisible car, an Angel getting trapped in front of a mirror (what if someone covers it?) and a very plastic-looking wooden cyberman designed to sell action figures. I googled it and yes, there is a wooden Cyberman toy. Arbitrarily it seems, sometimes the Church blows stuff up and sometimes the Doctor blows stuff up. When the Church blows up the Sontarans it declares that "the relevant afterlives have been notified." When I heard this I realised what I was hearing was basically a poor imitation of Douglas Adams humour. Oddly enough, in the extras on one of the Tom Baker DVDs from the Graham Williams era Moffat suggests that Adams wasn't the best choice of script editor at that time, which is probably true. I can't help but think from this, though, that if he'd been Executive Producer he'd probably be Moffat's idol. Anyway this is Moffat Who so we have to have a kid. The kid rings a bell and Matt Smith emerges with some latex wrinkles on his face and some toys for the children. He convinces the wooden Cyberman to blow itself up by telling it he's used the sonic screwdriver on it, but of course in New Who it doesn't work on wood. What about the truth field then? Who knows. We get some more montage stuff of the Doctor partying with the locals. In the background there's a weird Punch and Judy show featuring a puppet of a Monoid, referencing classic Hartnell serial "The Ark," an early story to feature a time-skip. That served a narrative purpose, and "The Ark" is generally not considered one of the greats of Doctor Who. Here the time skip seems relatively pointless, but I'm led to believe, as I've stated elsewhere, that it's what Moffat does when he's struggling to write.
Personally I'd sue the surgeon.
The Doctor tells the little kids "cool is not cool." I guess that's kind of giving them a good message to not succumb to peer pressure? Then he asks one of the kids "How's your father's barn," which sounds deeply euphemistic, especially when the kid replies that they've "fixed the leak." Then the TARDIS reappears with Clara still clinging on. The kid asks the Doctor if he's leaving and he doesn't say anything. Much like the earlier moment it's cod-dramatic nonsense where the Doctor refuses to be straightforward purely for the sake of forcing the sentiments. In the hall, there are cheesy things like drawings of the Doctor with "I love you" written on them and stuff. The Doctor takes Clara up to the roof so they can witness the brief daylight. We get a vaguely poignant conversational scene here, although the best bit, and saying it's "best" is stretching the friendship by a terrific margin, is when the Cyberman head reminds the Doctor about the telephone and then carks it. The Doctor replies, "Thank you, Handles, and well done." Despite being a touch drawn out, it's simple and effective enough. Why couldn't it be more like this? Smithy tells Clara that he sent her away because it was that or bury her, and reveals that he has no regenerations left because of the newly revealed John Hurt incarnation and the fact that Tennant regenerated twice: he had "vanity issues." Yeah, and shit writing issues. Basically Moffat's using all this as an excuse to be the one to answer the regeneration limit question, having played hell with the numbering: suddenly Eccly is the tenth incarnation of the character, Tennant the eleventh and the twelfth, and Smith is the thirteenth! Good grief. People are still arguing about this on the internet, some people trying to seem like clever clogs by calling Smithy things like "Thirteen" and "The Thirteenth Doctor." The Doctor reminds Clara of the cemetery from "The Name of the Doctor" and how this is where he dies. He's sticking around to save lives, but despite three hundred years fixing toys he can't seem to figure out a way to save his own. Incidentally, his wrinkly face makeup doesn't match his non-wrinkly neck.
It was a really sour lemon drop.
Tasha Lem summons him to the Church ship. Moffat's arbitrary kid, "Barnable," is hanging around at the TARDIS. His very brief conversations with the Doctor don't do much to add any additional pathos to the narrative. Lots of cheesy "ooh ooh ooh" background choral warbling comes in as well. It turns out the Silents are "confessional priests" genetically engineered to be forgettable. So they're human, then? In Tasha Lem's sex chamber the Doctor discovers that the events of Series 5 and 6 were caused by the "Kovarian Chapter" of the Church breaking away and going back in time to try to stop anything happening. They blew up the TARDIS and caused the cracks in the universe. How, precisely, did they blow up the TARDIS? Did someone go inside? We'll probably never know unless Moffat deigns to tell us in an interview or something. Heaven forbid it ever get revealed in a timely fashion during the actual programme. I've seen a video from a convention where Matt Smith tries and fails to explain it, deciding that we ought to just "blame the Daleks." Matt Smith always seems like a good sort. He really wasn't best served by the writing during his tenure. So it's all explained away as a "destiny trap," or, to put it more accurately, an ontological paradox where the effect is also the cause: the efforts of the Silence to prevent the cracks in time were the very actions which created them. There are also some offhand remarks about River but I'm buggered as to how all that mess fits together. It's a hurried explanation for everything that happened which only goes to show how muddled Series 6 in particular was. Tasha Lem reveals that the Church was attacked by the Daleks and they've all been turned into Dalek puppets: "I died in this room screaming your name." It's typical Moffat weirdness and a reiteration of the Angel Bob thing from Series 5. How do I remember all this shite? The Doctor gets all cranky about Tasha Lem being taken over, but who cares? I don't know who she is. The Daleks burst in and reveal that despite losing their memories of him back in "Asylum of the Daleks" they recovered all the necessary information from Tasha Lem, so that whole thing's just been repealed instantly. The Daleks don't want the Doctor to answer the question. Wouldn't they want to have a big old war? Isnt' that what Daleks do? Besides, as has been established, the Doctor doesn't want to say his name either! I don't know.
Miracle Matt?
To get Tasha Lem out of her mind control the Doctor harasses her until she slaps him - more of Moffat thinking that female equality means showing them responding to problems with violence - and then they mack on each other because of course you can't have an important female guest star without her kissing the lead at some point. Kind of shoots any egalitarianism right between the eyes, doesn't it? The croaked line of Smith's regarding Clara, "That is a woooooman," is horrible as well. Tasha Lem conveniently blows up all the Daleks. Why are they vulnerable to their own puppets? Convenient really is the watchword of this episode. She sends the Doctor back down to Trenzalore so that the Church can continue the fight against the Daleks and the Doctor can escape. Wouldn't this mean that "The Name of the Doctor" could never happen? Then again that was pretty pointless anyway, serving only really to introduce the John Hurt incarnation. Back in the TARDIS, the turkey is done. So what? Who cares? Clara makes the Doctor promise that he won't abandon her, which he does as soppy music plays, but then he shoves some weird thing into the console, disappears, and ditches Clara in present-day Earth again. Why does Clara live in a council estate? Are teachers in the UK paid that badly? Back on Trenzalore the Doctor tells Barnable that the TARDIS is a "reminder." To rewire the phone, I suppose. We see some montage of the Doctor teaming up with the Silents to fight their enemies until everyone's pissed off except for, of course the Daleks. This conflict has united the "ancient enemies: the Doctor and the Silence." Yeah, ancient since 2011. Back at Clara's place we get some really cagey efforts with appalling dialogue as the nondescript lady - is she Clara's dad's partner or something? - waffles on and the grandmother tells a story about a time when she "wanted nothing to change." How apposite! The TARDIS instantly returns and Clara pisses off again. What was the point of that? It's being piloted by Tasha Lem, who apparently knows how to control it. She must be a stand in for River Song. She takes Clara back to Christmas town, which over nine hundred years has barely changed despite getting the shit blown out of it by the Daleks. Having been told that the Doctor "shouldn't die alone," Clara finds Smithy slathered in even more old man makeup, almost evocative (maybe if you squint and turn your head) of a bedraggled, rubbery Hartnell. One of the better lines is when the Doctor asks Clara "Were you always so young?" and she replies "No, that was you." They break open a Christmas cracker and Clara recites a cheesy "extract" of a poem (actually by Moffat) which directly ties into the Doctor's circumstances. It's clunky and heavy handed. The Doctor decides to face the music and, after briefly mistaking a young man for the little kid from centuries earlier, goes upstairs. He tells Clara that despite what he said to the boy, he doesn't have a plan. How, again, is he lying in the truth field? He says he'll "talk very fast, hope something good happens, take the credit." Sounds pretty much bang on about how New Who works. We get some very late foreshadowing when he says that he could have changed the future if the Time Lords were still around.
Only Time Lord magic can dissolve BBC (Wales) latex.
Clara gives the Crack a big speech about the "question" and how "his name is the Doctor." Symbolism doesn't matter, they just want proof if it's safe to return. She argues "if you love him, and you should," they'd help him change the future. "Love him"? Seems like a really weird thing to say to the Time Lords. Up on top of the tower the giant saucer-shaped voice of Nicholas Briggs is ranting at the Doctor about regeneration but Smithy claims they "can't work up the courage" to shoot him. They're still blowing up the town, though. Then the Crack conveniently appears in the sky and shoots generic RTD-style golden Time Lord energy into the Doctor's mouth, apparently giving him new regenerations. I think that's more or less what everyone expected, that he would be given new regenerations by the Time Lords somehow. The earlier reference to "The Five Doctors" seems to be deliberately harking back to that time when the idea of new regenerations was first put forward in the show. The Doctor gives the Daleks a big spiel about how he doesn't care about rules while gobbing everywhere, perhaps in tribute to his first scene. He tells them that this regeneration, changing the ordinary sequence, is "gonna be a whopper." Have I just become completely desensitised to this kind of inane dialogue? The regeneration of course causes giant weaponisable energy beams to shoot out of the Doctor's hands which he uses to blow up the Daleks, apparently saving the day. Was there only one saucer left? What about all the reinforcements? There's loads of smoke and detritus but the town itself inexplicably survives. Clara heads for the TARDIS in pursuit of Smith. So long Christmas Town. So long Tasha Lem or whoever you were, Silence and so on. There's absolutely no resolution to them whatsoever. The Doctor ditches his Christmas costume, gets back into his generic Series 7 duds, eats fish fingers and custard, and whaddya know, reappears without makeup as his regeneration takes effect so that he can do the final scene "as is." What a surprise. He puts the TARDIS in motion, now completely forgetting the town and everything. He muses that "everything you are" instantly disappears, which reminds me of the Tennant Doctor speculating about his death, but we don't get any "I don't want to go." In fact he declares that "Times change and so must I." Then he has a vision of young Amy played by a very obvious stand-in: Caitlin Blackwood would of course be too old by now. The Doctor goes on, saying that people always change and become "different people" but need to remember who they used to be, which isn't too bad as departing sentiments go. His final words, seemingly, are "I will always remember when the Doctor was me." I probably will too, but with a great deal of ambivalence. The "wake up" music from "The Rings of Akhaten" starts blaring, an oddly coincidental reference to another episode where there was absolutely no closure on the setting or supporting cast, as a hallucinatory Karen Gillan steps down. They must both have been bald and wearing wigs for this scene because they'd both shaved their heads for American film roles. It's a predictable cameo but I don't mind. I never disliked Amy and I think the idea of him hallucinating before he dies has a kind of whimsy to it which is preferable to say, oh I don't know, going on a grand tour of every companion ever. Seeya 'round, Matt Smith. As final moments go it's not terrible, but it's not terrifically memorable either in my opinion. The best bit is his speech about change.
"Do you happen to know how to fly this thing? Or why
the fans on Facebook are so horrifyingly ageist?"
Then he lurches backwards and wahey! It's Capaldi. He complains about his kidneys and then asks Clara if she knows how to fly the TARDIS. It would have been a decent ending if they'd cut the kidneys line. The body part complaint is pretty cliché at this point. I saw a version of this with the music mixed out and it was much better. So that's the end of "The Time of the Doctor" and the end of the Smith era. As for the episode itself, well, it's not something for which I can really feel much emotion. It's padded and badly-paced, it indicates how little Moffat really cared about the arc plots and it seems a bit hubristic to solve the regeneration limit as it does. Tasha Lem is annoying, it feels like a rehash of past Moffat episodes and Clara seems like a bystander. Matt Smith is not given A-grade material for his final performance. It's just another episode to get lost to the ravages of time. To cast my gaze back over the Smith era, it really is a disappointment. Series 5 is not as good as I made it out to be at the time, but it was decent. Series 6 was, in my opinion, generally poor, and Series 7 mediocre. Series 7 also should have been two series. Matt Smith was not allowed to reach his full potential, with his character being written after Series 5 as a clownish buffoon having to move through limited and often nonsensical narratives. The whole thing is rather hollow, Moffat unrealistically convinced of his own cleverness. It's a shame, and it makes me feel much more wary about Capaldi's tenure than I would like to be, but what can I do? Watch Classic, which is to say real, Doctor Who, I guess. The idea that this is the same show is absurd. By this point the tone and style are so radically different that they almost can't be compared. The Time of the Doctor, I'm afraid to say, is really long past.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Introducing Opinions Can Be Wrong Plays! Shovel Knight: Episode 1

Ever wanted to watch me play an indie game incompetently? Well here you go, the first episode of a play-through of indie platformer "Shovel Knight" by Yacht Club Games. I've put this on youtube for the sake of my own convenience, but I've disabled comments and likes, natch, 'cause I don't want spam or to have to hear people's dumb opinions. Enjoy!
UPDATE: Here's episode 2!