OK folks, we are entering new territory in The Weird Al Chronicles. Not because Poodle Hat, Weird Al's 2003 album, is his first of the new millennium. That's an arbitrary dividing line. It is because after 1999's strong Running with Scissors, I have essentially no knowledge of Weird Al's output. Before listening to it for this project, I had heard exactly one song off of Poodle Hat. However, this album is also sort of lost in the shuffle of Yankovic's career. It came four years after his last album, which was quite popular. Maybe Al had some troubles adjusting to this new, YouTube world. While Poodle Hat won a Grammy (which isn't always the best marker of an album's popularity) and opened up at 17th on the Billboard Top 200, it is one of two Weird Al outings not to go gold, and he only released one single. It feels under the radar to me. Of course, under the radar doesn't mean it isn't good. Only history can judge that. And by history, I mean me. Right now.
The album opens with "Couch Potato" a parody of "Lose Yourself" by Eminem. It retreads old territory for Al. It's another song about watching a ton of TV and another song that name checks pop culture. He went for some references that have not stood the test of the, however. Yankovic wasn't seeking to be evergreen here. Anna Nicole Smith's show is mentioned, and so is the short-lived abomination Are You Hot?, which only pop culture junkies with long standing memories like me recall, and not fondly. While it is clear that Al's rapping skills have improved over the years, back in the day he couldn't match MC Hammer but now he's doing a passable Eminem, the content of the song is only mediocre. It makes sense to open the album with this, what with the popularity of Eminem and the movie 8 Mile and such at the time, but the song itself leaves me wanting. I will spare you my Metro Detroit aside about the perception of 8 Mile Road outside of the area.
I'll cut to the chase, but then I will spend a fair amount of time stepping back from the chase to detail it to the point of excess. This is a weak album for song parodies. There are two more that I am not a fan of, and in fact I am even lower on them than "Couch Potato." The worse of the two is "A Complicated Song" a parody of Avril Lavigne's "Complicated." While that song is awful, the music is actually pretty good, so that fact isn't actually a hindrance. Alas, Yankovic's song idea wasn't much stronger than a song that includes the lyric, "Take off all your preppy clothes." It's akin to one of those episodes of The Simpsons where they tell three non-canon stories. Of course, these days they usually do four of them because they do their act breaks differently. Then, they did that awful episode about Moe's dishrag. I guess my point is that, if I had my druthers, I'd write a million words about The Simpsons everyday.
This is about Weird Al, however. One of the jokes in the triumvirate is kind of funny. It involves the singer being decapitated and singing about how much that bothers him. Oddly enough, and spoiler alert, decapitation is a part of the next song on the album as well. The other two are dumb jokes. One is about the singer eating a bunch of cheese and getting constipated. The other is about the singer finding out that he is dating his cousin. Yeah, nothing clever there. Fairly easy, fairly arch, and not well executed. Al is capable of much greater, much funnier stuff. Also, referring to Al as "the singer" has gotten me thinking about the nature of the protagonists of his songs. Could any of them truly be considered Weird Al Yankovic? I mean, sometimes they are clearly characters, and a lot of times he tells stories that are obviously are not real. Then, sometimes he sings about the night Santa went crazy, and it could really be sung by anybody. It's a complex matter.
The last of the not very good parodies is "Trash Day" which is a riff on "Hot in Herre" by Nelly. Al can't quite match Nelly like he did Eminem, but he does a decent enough job. On the other hand, the music isn't all that good, but that's Nelly and his producers' fault. It is about disgusting garbage piling up in a house, and the protagonist's wife getting angry. It has a couple clever lines, but is mediocre at best. OK, now on to the better stuff.
The best of the parodies is "Ode to a Superhero" which takes on Billy Joel's "Piano Man" a song I really enjoy from an artist I like. I fear no reprisals, folks who don't like Billy Joel. The song is about the first of Sam Raimi's Spiderman movies. Based on its title, I was wondering if it would be about multiple superheroes, but it's just Spiderman, and it's just that movie. I have come to the realization that most of my favorite Weird Al parodies are the ones where he tells the story of a movie. "Yoda," "The Saga Begins," and "Gump" for example. This joins that list. It's not quite as good, but I really enjoy it. Al has a way of describing what happens in these movies in a way that both encompasses the plot but expresses it humorously. His word choice and the things he decides to emphasize are clever and shrewd. Granted, I think the fact he has source material to work from, and so the listener may have a point of reference to sell the joke, but that doesn't mean Weird Al isn't making the most of that material. I am a fan of language and words, so I really appreciate a well-crafted sentence. And Al's word choice is often really, really, really... good.
The last parody, and the one that was the single, is "eBay" which is done to the tune of "I Want It That Way" by The Backstreet Boys. Maybe I am off on this, but wouldn't this make Al slightly behind the boy band craze? Then again, the album has to be generated before it can be recorded. At the very least, they weren't the pop music footnote they are now. The song is mostly an excuse to list goofy, funny things that could be sold on eBay. Things such as "Pac-Man Fever" lunchboxes and "Alf" memorabilia. Again, it's the kind of idea Al usually does well. By this, his 11th album, it is hard not to reiterate points I have made before about Weird Al's music. His strong points, and his weak points, are abundantly clear. Before I get to the originals, I might as well through out the necessary brief assessment of the polka medley. This time it is "Angry White Boy Polka" which is mostly the music of folks like Papa Roach and System of a Down. Fortunately, the juxtaposition of these songs being done in polka style is actually fairly amusing. There is also a fair amount of piano in this medley, and on this album in general. It is one of the better polka medleys.
There are two originals on this album I find very interesting. One I really enjoyed, one baffled me and dared me to turn it off before it finished. I shall start with the latter first, because it is such a bizarre outing that I found myself pondering it the most of any other song on Poodle Hat. It's the final song on the album. It is 8:58. It is called "Genius in France." On the last album, Running with Scissors, Al ended things with "Albuquerque." It's a bizarre, absurd, but funny and enjoyable song. It's around 12 minutes long, but it's a good, humorous 12 minutes.
"Genius in France" is bizarre, but it is utterly baffling and difficult to wrap my head around. It has even less through line than "Albuquerque." At times, it is genuinely irritating. The protagonist of the song is disliked and despised, except in France where, for reaches not explained, he is hailed as a genius. It makes no sense. The lyrics are weird. The instrumentation is nigh impossible to describe. It's off key, it's off tempo, and it is a cornucopia of different sounds and instruments. As I pondered it, and tried to find something to compare it to, I finally came up with the comparison of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart and stuff like that. It then solidified in my brain that I bet that was Al's intention. Sure enough, according to the internets this was a stylistic homage to Zappa, with his son Dweezil even appearing on the song. That doesn't make the song any better. I still dislike "Genius in France" even if I know what he was going for.
On the other hand, "Wanna B Ur Lovr" is something I never stopped to think about, but upon being presented with it I realized it was all I ever wanted. It's a Weird Al version of a sexy R&B song. The internets says it was inspired by Beck's Midnite Vultures album, but I want to compare it to Prince, especially because Beck's album is difficult to parse in terms of where parody meets sincerity in its own right.
Obviously, Al's version is much sillier and is full of jokes, most of which are funny. Admittedly, some of the lines are just Al trotting out cheesy pickup lines. Some of them are twists on well worn come ons. For example, proclaiming somebody must be an angel who fell from heaven, because it would explain what's wrong with their face. And then there is the nonsense like a woman who would look like the Venus De Milo if somebody just sawed her arms off. There's also some straight absurdity thrown in there as well. Lyrically, this song is a clear standout on the album. It's quite funny, and it also helps that it is new territory for Yankovic. The song is over 6 minutes long, but it does not overstay its welcome. I'm glad "Wanna B Ur Lovr" exists. We needed a Weird Al R&B seduction song. Stick it on a mixtape, people.
The one song I had heard before was "Bob" which is an homage to Bob Dylan where all the lyrics are palindromes. Again, as somebody who likes language, this song is right up my alley. I appreciate the effort and the simplicity. Also, when I was in college sometimes in class to occupy my time I would construct palindromes. At my boldest, I would write them with my non-dominant hand (I'll never tell you which one!) backwards. That is to say, sometimes I would write them like it was in a mirror, and sometimes I would write them normally, but starting with the end of the sentence. Hey, what else was I going to do? Play with my phone like a dick? Watch an episode of Dawson's Creek like that girl in my history class? Come on!
"Party at the Leper Colony" is a rollicking little ditty that exists just to make puns about limbs falling off. It wears out its welcome pretty quickly, but it's overall OK. "Hardware Store" is about the opening of a hardware store. It is pretty lacking in substance. Seriously, there isn't much there. I can't think of anything of note to say about it. It's tepid. It's a sensory deprivation chamber of a song. Whatevs. Lastly, there's "Why Does This Always Happen To Me?" which is a pretty clear joke done well. The singer describes some tragic event, and then points out how it is inconvenient to him. For example, he sees a horrible car accident, wherein his friend is decapitated, and realizes that friend owed him five bucks. Why does this always happen to him, he wonders. And so on. Like I said, it's been done before, but Yankovic's version is executed well, so I still enjoyed it.
Well, this brave new world of Weird Al Yankovic songs is quite similar to what came before. While I don't think Poodle Hat is as good as his two prior albums, which are his two best up to this point, I did think it was pretty good. Admittedly, it ends awfully with "Genius in Space" but on a future listen I could just end it before I got there. "Ode to a Superhero" and "Wanna B Ur Lovr" are among his better efforts, and there are a few other good songs on it. There isn't a quality reason why Poodle Hat seemed to fall through the cracks. It's not a poor effort or anything. It was probably a logistical concern. All artists, or at least many of them, had to adopt to the changing landscape of music. In particular, by 2003 there was a forum for parody songs out there for everybody. Music was in the zeitgeist and then completely disappeared much more quickly. A million songs on things like Limewire could be put under his name falsely. Through it all, Weird Al Yankovic kept churning out music, and he ended up making it through the rain.