Year of the Album — #045
Weird Al Yankovic – “Alpocalypse” (2011, Volcano Records)
Weird Al’s built his career by latching on to musical ephemera and songs of the moment to craft singalble pop that parodies the best and worst of a given generation’s music. And while he’s gotten better with his “genre parodies” of late, part of the fun is seeing what he’ll do with pop hits like Gaga’s “Born This Way” (which becomes “Perform This Way”). Alpocalypse really doesn’t offer anything mindblowingly new – certainly nothing as brainbendingly hilarious as “Trapped In The Drive-Thru” off his last effort – but he’s still capable of creating parodies that stick in the head. This is no Running With Scissors embarassment, and for that we can be glad.
“CNR” is a highlight, taking a White Stripes styled grunge rock powerhouse that takes Charles Nelson Riley and elevates him to Chuck Norris status. And “TMZ” takes Taylor Swift’s “You Belong To Me” and turns it into a skewering of celebrity “culture” shows, particularly the creepiness aspect of the stalkerish paparazzi. “They’re out there praying you’ll have a big meltdown, and take them on a little car chase through this whole town,” he starts out, tamely, then he lets loose. “You just picked up some transvestite, seconds later its up on the website!” One imagines he’d have fit in a few jokes at the expense of Anthony Weiner if the album hadn’t gone to press months ago. The jokes would have written themselves.
“Polka Face” is another highlight, giving all manner of current pop songs the Al’s Polka treatment (including his second Gaga reference … her publishing arm must be loving it!) Once he gets the ubiquitous “Poker Face” joke out, he gets the chance to rip on Britney Spears’ “Womanizer,” Lady Antebellum’s drunk-dialing “Need You Now,” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” among many others. It’s the odd juxtaposition of all these different types of pop into one accordion-fueled jam that make it so fun. And only Al could put a “Fireflies” / Owl City reference right next to a “Blame It On The Alcohol” rip.
“Stop Forwarding This Crap To Me,” however, is the pinnacle. It gives the Jackson Browne “Load Out” treatment to a lyric about abject hatred for spam email forwarding. This may be Al’s strongest “genre parody,” because the song’s actually a solid piece of hummable original music not based on a particular song we already know. As the song builds, it turns into something akin to a Jim Steinman / Meatloaf collaboration, and it may result in the ultimate irony … becoming a song we all start forwarding, even as it begs us to stop doing just that.
In the end, Alpocalypse is what you’d expect – a fun album from Weird Al that mixes outright song parodies with more of his continually improving genre parodies. It’s cheesy summer fun, and while no one’s ever going to accuse him of being subtle, Al Yankovic’s one of the few guys in the music business who gives his fans what they want time after time. And that, over the years, his original comedy songs have continued to improve in quality from the nadir of “Albuquerque,” makes it seem all the more likely that one day we may get an album from him that doesn’t have to pander to Lady Gaga parodies. There’s still a career-defining album in there somewhere, and while Alpocalypse isn’t there yet, there are moments that come tantalizingly close.
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Enjoy “Party in the CIA” below as an example of when Al’s overt song-specific parodies are spot on (you’ll never hear Miley Cyrus the same again!)
“So I get my handcuffs, my cyanide pills, my classified dossier
Tapping the phones, like ‘yeah!’ Shredding the files, like ‘yeah!’”