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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.