[10 August 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Like his previous 12 studio albums, Weird Al Yankovic’s Alpocalypse mixes several parodies of topical pop with some originals and polka. As always, the album highlights his gift for lyrics that are simultaneously incisive and absurdly hilarious.
Weird Al’s humorous lyrical revisions are his bread and butter, obviously, but not all of his parodies are simple, straightforward re-writes. Of course, some songs on Alpocalypse are remakes with new lyrics — such as “Perform This Way”, which uses “Born This Way” as a vehicle to satirize, and chastise, Lady Gaga’s so-called individuality. Other tracks are parodies of certain styles, incorporating easily recognizable traits of other musicians’ signature sounds, rather than targeting one specific song. Sometimes these work even better than the more obvious parodies because they allow Al more space in which to play with the lyrics and the social commentary within them. Among the best of those here: “Ringtone”, about the shame of a regrettable ringtone choice, done as an homage to Queen; “CNR”, a White Stripes-style send up that portrays Charles Nelson Reilly as a sort of Chuck Norris figure (“Charles Nelson Reilly won the Tour de France with two flat tires and a missing chain / He trained a rattlesnake to do his laundry, I’m telling you the man was insane.”); and “Craigslist”, a Doors-like tune listing some of that site’s stranger posts to great comic effect, featuring The Doors’ own Ray Manzerek on keyboards.
It’s always amusing when you get musicians assisting, essentially spoofing themselves, and in addition to the aforementioned Manzerek appearance, Alpocalypse features Taylor Hanson playing piano on the Hanson-esque “If That Isn’t Love”, an ode to true devotion that can be summed up by its best line: “And I make sure to call you ‘Baby’ / Every time I forget your name”. If that isn’t love, indeed.
The originals on his albums always pale in comparison to the parodies—that’s just the nature of the genre—but don’t count them out. One of the smartest, funniest, most biting songs here is the closer, “Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me”. And while some people see it as too much schtick, never let it be said that Weird Al isn’t a master of the polka medley. The one on Alpocalypse is called, you guessed it, “Polka Face”. It takes a poke at not only Gaga, but Britney Spears, Kid Cudi, Lady Antebellum, Katy Perry, Owl City, and Ke$sha, among others. Think of it as the place on the album where Al really lets loose.
Even though his more stylistic interpretations may offer greater opportunities for expressing his opinions and artistic inclinations (or at least offer fewer constraints lyrically), and his polka medley prowess is unmatched, most fans still come to Weird Al Yankovic for his versions of particular hits, for his skewering of songs they know and loathe. “Perform This Way” is naturally, the big one here. But there are many more, including “TMZ”, which turns Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me” into jab at the paparazzi and our culture’s obsession with even minor celebrities. “Party in the CIA” hits Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA”, and “Another Tattoo” takes on “B.o.B.‘s “Nothing on You”. T.I.‘s “Whatever You Like” keeps its title, but Al turns it into a sarcastic celebration of economic hardship with line like “Take you out to dinner anywhere you please / Like Burger King or Mickey D’s / Yeah baby, you can have whatever you like / I said you can even have the large fries” and “You like Top Ramen? Need Top Ramen? / Got a cupboard full of ‘em I’ll keep ‘em comin’.”
Alpocalypse may not be his strongest record, but it does what only Weird Al Yankovic can do, and he’s been doing for nearly 30 years now, so he must be doing something right.