“Weird Al” Yankovic may be too white and nerdy to gain acceptance from neighborhood gangstas, as one of his new songs complains, but his dorky persona has also helped transform him into the most famous song parodist of our time. His latest CD, Straight Outta Lynwood, will certainly appeal to nerds—and the nerd in all of us (perhaps even a few cool people, too).
Although parodies are his bread and butter, most of these new songs aren’t actually based around familiar tunes—you know, hits altered with Al’s unique comedic spin. Nevertheless, he makes fun of Canadians with “Canadian Idiot”, which reprises Green Day’s melody. Furthermore, this particular Great White North basher is the CD’s one and only rock re-take. Instead, R&B stars (Usher, Chamillionaire, R. Kelly and Taylor Hicks, who is at least old school R&B) represent the remainder of Al’s other re-do entries.
The best track here, “Trapped In The Drive-Thru” (an R. Kelly inspired selection), is also a musical and lyrical epic. He’s obviously having fun with Kelly’s “Trapped In The Closet”: the words transcribed in the CD booklet span three separate pages! You ought to know by now that food is a popular “Weird Al” theme. So, not surprisingly, this song chronicles an unsuccessful trip to the drive-thru. Funny lines include ones about fast food terminology, as when Al sings: “Now we’re at the pay window, / Or whatever you call it”. There’s also a moment where the car behind this couple (Al and his song wife are suffering this dinner trial together) has its brights on. “Hey, whatcha tryin’ to do”, Al screams, “Blind me?” There’s some non-lyrical humor as well, such as when the man in this pseudo-tragic story switches on the radio as Jimmy Page’s actual “Black Dog” guitar riff comes through the speakers.
The remainder of this disc is just plain musical and lyrical silliness, without any direct original song references. And while these may not be obviously pointed nods to specific songs, “I’ll Sue Ya” sure sounds a whole lot like Rage Against the Machine, and “Virus Alert” is a dead ringer for a Sparks song. One other album inclusion is a medley called “Polkarama!”, which accordion-izes The Black Eyed Peas, Franz Ferdinand, Weezer, Coldplay, Modest Mouse, Gorillaz, Pussycat Dolls, The Killers, Velvet Revolver, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Rihanna, and Kanye West. It proves the point that almost everything sounds white and nerdy when played on an accordion.
“Weird Al” reveals his white nerdiness further through the computer related “Virus Alert”, which presses the panic button on PC dangers, and “Don’t Download This Song”, which has fun with the kind of imagined damage such computer attacks can cause (such as making “your iPod only play Jethro Tull”). Everybody has a PC these days, but the internet certainly didn’t originate in the ‘hood. This is why Al can still claim cyberspace to be a part of the nerd domain.
The flipside of this CD is a DVD containing six videos and an “in the studio” documentary segment. All but the video for “Pancreas” are animated. “Pancreas” instead uses old black and white footage to help illustrate this love song to an unsung bodily organ. Although they’re mostly cartoons, not everything visualized is for the kids. “Close But No Cigar” has a little bit too much T&A action going on, and “Weasel Stomping Day”, with its squishy sound affects, had my little one running around the house covering her ears. The best visual of all is for “I’ll Sue Ya”, which finds Al playing himself in front of a hard rocking band.
This CD’s title is a play on N.W.A.‘s breakthrough “Straight Outta Compton” release. Lynwood is also Al’s real life hometown. The disc’s theme suggests that while “Weird Al” has good, hip intentions, he is just at the wrong place, at the wrong time and the wrong color to be cool. But then again, we all know that “Weird Al” will never pass as a brother with a skin pigmentation deficiency—no matter how much he tries to look hard. What makes him hip is not his gangsta pose, however, but the insightful way he can look at our musical culture, and then turn his humorous songs / observations into mini social commentaries. With “I’ll Sue Ya”, he has a field day with America’s propensity to file frivolous lawsuits. It wouldn’t be half as funny if it weren’t also true. Much of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s new musical ruminations are straight out of the daily newspaper, which makes his work both humorous and also strangely relevant.