Review: Weird Al – Mandatory Fun

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For a parody artist to succeed in the music industry is a genuine feat. Even before the rise of the internet, pop music has always moved in such fast waters as to keep parodies from gaining popularity distinct of novelty. This is where the brilliance of an artist like Weird Al truly shows itself. While best known for his direct parodies like “Eat It” or “Smells Like Nirvana,” Yankovic shines brightest on his original songs. Songs like Alpocalypse’s “CNR” and “Craigslist” (stylistic parodies of the White Stripes and the Doors, respectively) showcase his ability as a gifted songwriter in his own right, a talent he flaunts in perfect form on his latest album, Mandatory Fun, with hilarious send-ups of artists like Cat Stevens and the Pixies.

Of course, though the stylistic satires and polka medleys (this time featuring Miley Cyrus, Daft Punk, Pitbull and One Direction, among others) may be his creative high points, it’s his parodies of pop songs that are his bread and butter, and they are in no short supply here. Songs like his parodies of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Lorde’s “Royals” shine not just for the absurdity of their premises but for their subtle decrying of their performer’s personalities and… “idiosyncrasies,” we’ll call them. Thicke’s sliminess is no secret and to turn his song from degrading women to demoralizing poor grammar is funny enough on its own, but “Foil” works even better for poking fun at Lorde’s batshit conspiracy theories.

As with any of his albums, Yankovic’s greatest talent is pushed aside in the form of his original songs. Had he never joined the parody game he could easily have been a high-profile songwriter for any number of artists. From his clowning on the Foo Fighters faux-uplifting radio rock on “My Own Eyes” to the meandering soft-rock balladry of his Cat Stevens soundalike “Jackson Park Express,” Yankovic has an ear for musical tropes and if there’s one complaint to be made about Mandatory Fun, it’s that his own skill is often short-changed for the big-ticket items, the pop song parodies.

It’s this imbalance of material that holds Mandatory Fun from reaching the heights of his previous albums like 1985’s Dare to Be Stupid. While the singles and their accompanying videos have been entertaining enough in their own rights, his original songs have the potential for much more lasting power. The dearth of original material is disappointing but overall the album is solid and the jokes funny, and at 45 minutes it’s easily digestible as a whole without wearing the listener down.

1 / 5 FLUSHES

Mandatory Fun is out now on RCA Records.

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