The Weird Al Chronicles Part V: Even Worse

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When last we left Weird Al Yankovic, he was releasing Polka Party to limited response critically and commercially. He needed to bounce back, and with his fifth album, Even Worse, he managed to do so. The album is bringing the comedy, and the parody, before you even open the cover. The title is a play off of Michael Jackson's Bad, and the picture on Al's cover is of him aping Jackson's attire and pose from his own cover art. This is the first time Al extended his parody humor to his albums title and artwork, but it's not the last time. Also, while Even Worse is clever in relation to Bad, it gets an added boost from the fact that it was released after Al's first disappointing album. I'm not saying that was intentional, but it is convenient.

First off, instead of diving into the songs and the lyrics and the flavor of humor found on the album, I want to discuss the musicality of Even Worse. It is, of his first five albums, far and away the best sounding and most musically impressive. The album sounds good. The parodies manage to ape the songs they are based off of well, without any falloff in terms of quality. Their style parodies are on point. The originals sound good. The guitar work is particularly impressive, and they even manage to stick a couple nice guitar solos in the mix. People don't buy Weird Al's work for the quality of the instrumentation. His music is about the humor and how funny it happens to be and how clever the parodies are. However, Al and his band are still making music, and they do it well on this record, which shouldn't be overlooked.

The song that really brought Al into the limelight was his Michael Jackson parody "Eat It." Well, this album once again opens with a Jackson spoof, and once again it involves food. Or, rather, the end result of eating too much of it. That's right, I'm talking about "Fat," the parody of "Bad." It proved quite popular, as once again playing off the King of Pop helped Al find recognition, and probably helped his MTV airplay as well. The fact he produced another fancy music video for "Fat" also helped. In fact, "Fat" is probably his most noted music video. It won him a Grammy, and in his live show you can often find him donning the fat suit necessitated for this song.

All that said, it's not a very good song. "Fat" is just a series of fat jokes, many of them well-worn. You know, stuff about how when the protagonist of the song sits around a room he sits around a room. He can't get in a phone booth, etc. The only thing really clever here at all is his ability to work all these often groan-inducing one liners into song form, and bending that song into something resembling "Bad." Still, "Eat It" and "Fat" remains supremely popular, and they are the reason that people tend to equate Weird Al with songs about good. Well, that and the fact he really does do a lot of songs about food.

Speaking of food, Al has one more song on this album about it. It's entitled "Lasagna" and it is to the tune of "La Bamba." It's an odd little ditty. It's basically just Al portraying a broad Italian stereotype. He says stuff like "Whats-a-matta-you?" in a thick fake accent. He's-a so emotional, he's-a gonna smash these barrels! I'd like to think Al realizes this is very silly, and that's sort of the point. I'd like to think he is intentionally doing something stupidly broad in an ironic sense. It's just an exercise in abject goofy stupidity. On that level, it's pretty funny in its manic nonsense. If that's not the case, then it's a miss.

There are a couple good parodies on Even Worse, and oddly enough they are both based on songs originally performed by Tommy James and the Shondells. The kids love Tommy James! Where's the "Crimson and Clover" parody, Al? The best song on the album is "I Think I'm A Clone Now," a parody of "I Think We're Alone Now." It's about what you think it is about. However, a song by a clone talking about being a clone is actually original and somewhat interesting. It's strong lyrically too, being both clever and humorous, with good lines about all his jeans being hand me downs and such. It's one of his less silly, goofy songs, but still funny, and it sounds good too. Of course, when you are building off a well-polished piece of pop music excellence like "I Think We're Alone Now" it's not hard to make that happen.

The other good parody is "Alimony" which is based off of "Mony Mony" but the sound is more like the Billy Idol version than the original. This was just a given to happen. It was inevitable. If you are Weird Al, you have to turn "Mony Mony" into "Alimony." It's a fairly straightforward song about divorce and such, but it's still good. "(This Song's Just) Six Words Long," based on George Harrison's "Got My Mind Set On You,) is pretty clever. It's more than six words long, to be fair, but the chorus is just the title. The rest of the song is a meta riff on song writing and Al's inability to write the song he's currently singing. It's sort of like Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation, but in song form and with less weird sexual stuff. In the end, you'll have either the original or Al's version stuck in your head afterward. Actually, I like this song too. Make that three good song parodies on Even Worse.

Alas, while originals were the high points of Polka Party!, none of the originals on Even Worse really stick out to me. Well, two of them do stick out to me, but because they are oddly dark for Weird Al, not because of quality. Not to say they're bad. They aren't. In fact, they are both decent. They just aren't anything special. "Melanie" is the one I liked better. It starts off as a love song, but quickly becomes stalker-ish. Meanwhile, the album ends with "Good Old Days." It's a song in the style of James Taylor, and features the singer reminiscing on, guess what, the good old days. However, the good old days involve the singer doing awful, disturbing things like murdering people. That song is all about the juxtaposition of the way it is being presented and the content therein. Pretty standard parody stuff, but done fairly well.

The other originals don't do much for me. "Twister" is a barely there, just over a minute riff on the Beastie Boys. "Velvet Elvis" is the one song that I wasn't too enthused about sonically and aurally. The content didn't really strike me very strongly either. The other two originals are both in Al's wheelhouse, as the conceit allows Al to just say random, goofy things. In particular, "Stuck in a Closet with Vanna White" is about dreams, which allows you to throw literally anything out there. The first notable thing I had published on the internets was a humor piece for McSweeney's entitled "The Surrealist Goes to the Store," which was a parody of surrealism, so I understand the allure Al probably felt to let his wild, goofy humor fly. Also, I got an e-mail about that piece I wrote from a high school teacher telling me they were going to use my piece in their class as an example of surrealism. This gave me a bit of a skewed perception of what the life of freelance writing would be like. The other song is "You Make Me," and I have very little to say about it. It's alright, I suppose. It's, evidently, a style parody of Oingo Boingo, which at least gives me the excuse to write "Oingo Boingo."

It is also probably worth pointing out that there were no polka medleys on Even Worse, which was probably an intentional choice in the aftermath of Polka Party! and such. This is definitely a better album than its predecessor. I don't know if I would consider it his best album of his first five. Dare to be Stupid may be a bit better. After all, that album has "Like a Surgeon" and "Yoda." Both of those songs are better than anything on this album. Still, I liked Even Worse just find. It definitely saw Al and his gangland cronies finding their footing again, and improving the sound of their band. While I don't really like "Fat," it still has a few good songs, and is a bit more adventurous in terms of song content and brands of humor. After pretty much churning out an album a year, there were two years between 1986's Polka Party! and 1988's Even Worse. It seems to show, and not just in the fact that he cranked out a funny album title and cover art on top of everything else.