The Weird Al Chronicles Part XII: Straight Outta Lynwood

  |   Comments

Weird Al's Poodle Hat sort of got lost in the shuffle of life, even though it is a solid album. However, a few years later Yankovic found himself back in the zeitgeist with 2006's Straight Outta Lynwood. This is, perhaps, mildly surprising when you dig into the logistics of recording the album. Apparently Weird Al wanted to include a parody of James Blunt's atrocious "You're Beautiful" (there's a half-formed Songs We Wish We Could Forget on that number collecting cyber dust on my computer) entitled "You're Pitiful," but then it got nixed. The album was delayed. In the end, Straight Outta Lynwood made it into the Billboard's top 10 albums, and it even had a top 10 single, both first for Yankovic. Sure, this may be in part due to the fracturing nature of the music industry, and Weird Al is an institution with a devoted fanbase, but it is still impressive.

That top 10 single was actually a late addition to the album as well, but it has emerged as one of the most popular Weird Al songs. That song is "White & Nerdy" the parody "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire. While I was well-aware of this song before listening to this album, I had never actually heard it in its entirety. There was only one song I had previously heard, and it was due to television's Robot Chicken. Like I said in the entry on Poodle Hat, I had very little knowledge of Weird Al's new millennium output. It feels somewhat odd, or at least fortuitous, that "White & Nerdy" ended up on this album. After all, the album's title is a reference to NWA's Straight Outta Compton and the album cover is essentially a gangsta rap album cover but with Weird Al transposed on it. He looks odd wearing a hat. Also, for folks unfamiliar with Los Angeles geography, Lynwood is just north of Compton, so it isn't exactly a nice neighborhood. That's not the joke here. Weird Al just happens to be from Lynwood. Straight Outta Brentwood this is not. Now, for my extended standup routine about the 405...

Here is what I have to say about "White & Nerdy." It is Weird Al's most impressive rapping work yet. Back in the day, he could not have pulled this off. However, he manages to match Chamillionaire's flow quite well, and it's a good beat to work with. Having said that, the content of this song is somewhat an issue for me. The joke is that Weird Al wants to hang out with gangster types, but alas, he is both too white and too nerdy. Yankovic then proceeds to discuss all the things he does that are, presumably, white and nerdy. My beef is twofold. First, the notion that there is anything one does that is "white." This is just brought racial stereotyping, and fairly inane. Secondly, we've got a major issue with the word "nerd" these days. Simply put, the word has lost all meaning. I refuse to use it, and I refuse to accept its usage, because it has been destroyed. The problem is that all kinds of people have misused and misappropriated the word over and over. It had a definition once upon a time, and it wasn't a positive one. Now, a lot of the time people seem to basically use it instead of the word "fan" or "enthusiast." It's dumb. Nothing is "nerdy." It doesn't mean anything. The traits Al lists in the song don't really fall into any spectrum, broad or otherwise. This is an issue.

Sure, the character in the song is well-drawn in terms of details. Also, he certainly does not seem to be doing anything that would be considered "tough" or "gangsta" but there are probably tough guys who ride Segways and go on MySpace. This song sort of feels like a warmed over version of "All about the Pentiums" except that song is good and this one isn't. As I have said before, I am a fan of words and language, so semantics mean something to me, and this song is a semantic nightmare. I just can't get past that, so this song is mediocre to me.

Fortunately, "Canadian Idiot" a spoof of Green Day's "American Idiot," is much better. The song seems to be trafficking in easy Canadian stereotypes, but it becomes clear that is the point. "Canadian Idiot" is from the point of view of an American with a broad, stereotypical, and derisive view of our neighbors to the north. It also takes some digs at the United States, such as when Al expresses bafflement that Canadians don't take guns to the mall. It's not the sharpest of satires, but it is pretty funny, and certainly cleverer, and clearer, than "White & Nerdy." Yes, both traffic in stereotypes, but they do it in different ways, one successful and one not.

There are a couple of parodies that are fairly flat and don't elicit a strong reaction from me. "Confessions Part III" is based on "Confessions Part II" by Usher, and it involves Weird Al confessing some odd, unusual, and weird things to his lady love. It's not that funny, but it has a few good moments. It's not very good musically, however, which may be Usher's fault. "Do I Creep You Out?" is a parody of a Taylor Hicks song called "Do I Make You Proud?" I should probably point out that this album has some moments that date it pretty significantly. Well, that's what happens when your milieu is pop culture. Anyway, you can probably guess what the song is about. It's a torch song from a stalker to their stalkee. It's alright, I guess. It's better than a bad song, sure, but it doesn't really leave me anything to write about.

The last parody is, conceptually, a doozy. It's "Trapped in the Drive-Thru" a riff on R. Kelly's completely bizarre "Trapped in the Closet" which is an undying organism that will outlive us all. Fittingly, Weird Al's version is almost 11 minutes long. It had to be to be a proper parody. Al and company have done long songs before, with his last few albums all having at least one. On the one hand, "Trapped in the Closet's" bombastic hyperbole is ripe for parody and lampooning. On the other hand, can Weird Al really create anything funnier or more ridiculous than the actual R. Kelly soap opera?

Of course, as is often the case with his "parodies," Weird Al isn't really saying anything about the original. He's just using it as a jumping off point musically for an original song on a completely different topic. Often, that topic is food, and that's the case here. Yankovic's "Drive-Thru" is a bit more low stakes than what Kelly is up to. For starters, it's only one song, and he's never performed ALL THE PARTS at some MTV awards show. It's about a man and his wife going to get something to eat. It's just about the hassle of deciding what you want, going through the drive-thru, not having enough money, all that stuff. The humor is mostly derived from Al matching the tone of R. but doing so in such a banal scenario. Also, briefly Al turns on the radio and "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin plays, which was the funniest thing in it.

As a parody, as a take on "Trapped in the Closet," "Trapped in the Drive-Thru" is a success. It nails the tone. However, the content that Weird Al provides is a bit lacking. The minutiae of the sojourn to get food doesn't have enough humor in it. The song doesn't really justify its length, other that in the fact it had to be this length to be a proper parody. In the end "Wanna B Ur Lovr" remains the one Weird Al Yankovic R&B song that I need. This is a lacking album in parody quality. I don't like any of these songs, save for "Canadian Idiot" which isn't an all-timer, or Al-timer, if you will (personally, I wouldn't). Clearly, people love "White & Nerdy," but I just can't put myself in that camp.

As per usual, I shall transition into the originals with a mention of the polka medley, which this time is called "Polkarama!" It's a mixture of rock and hip hop. The only thing worth noting is that I found their use of 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" interesting. In Cent's song, candy and such is used as sexual metaphor. Al and company re-contextualize it as an upbeat, friendly ditty that makes it sound like they are just happily singing about candy. Also, they do "Gold Digger," but, of course, it's the radio edit not the album version. Now that would have been a notable choice.

OK, originals time. I shall start with the second song on the album, "Pancreas." A pastiche of Beach Boys songs, of the Brian Wilson variety, Weird Al sings an ode to his pancreas. Yes, that's odd. Yes, it is odd in a unique, humorous way. Singing a song that discusses, in depth, the functions of the pancreas is such a bizarre choice, and certainly makes it stick out in the Weird Al oeuvre. I was glad to see such a choice being made, and the execution was about as good as you can expect. It's funny and it is smart and it is, like Mike Nelson and the bots favorite BBQ sauce, BOLD! Plus, as a big Beach Boys fan, Weird Al was working from a position of advantage. I liked trying to pick out which Beach Boys song they were riffing on when they changed the tune, and it just sounded pleasant. Also, if I can have one quick aside, and I am entitled to it because I am the boss here, I like "Kokomo." I know it's considered cheesy and dumb. I know John Stamos is in the music video. I don't care. Man, that's a good song. "Pancreas" is also a good song. Coincidence? Entirely.

"I'll Sue Ya" is done in the style of Rage Against the Machine, as the singer tells us all the things they are going to sue people about. It's a laundry list of frivolous lawsuits, usually based on dumb mistakes by the singer. It's funny, but it also goes on probably just a bit too long. Still, there is enough in it to make it worth listening to at least once. "Weasel Stomping Day" is the one song I had heard before, because they had a music video for it on Robot Chicken back in the day. I don't know why I stopped watching that show. It's right up my alley. I sort of stopped watching Adult Swim when Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law went off the air, I suppose. Those were good times. Anyway, it's a peppy song about a holiday not unlike The Simpsons' Whacking Day. Only, instead of beating snakes with sticks, people stomp on weasels, which is even more grisly. It's kind of funny, and there is a bit of absurdity buried in there, and fortunately it's a quick song. It's a decent enough song, although some of the impact is lost when you just hear it and don't see the video.

"Virus Alert" and "Close but No Cigar" fall into that grand chasm of mediocrity that leaves me with little to say about the song. The former is about computer viruses and fake e-mail attachments and such. It doesn't really explore it in an interesting or funny fashion, although some of the stuff the viruses purportedly do are funny. "Close but No Cigar" feels odd to me. It barely feels like a Weird Al song. The joke is that the protagonist is giving up on women due to minor flaws. However, there are barely any jokes here. It feels almost like a kind of silly song by a usually serious artist. Having said that, musically this song is really good. It has a pleasant sound to it, and the instrumentation is strong. So, I still enjoyed it, but not for the content of Al's lyrics, the usual draw for his work.

Lastly, on the album and in this article, there's "Don't Download This Song." It's done in the style of stuff like "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which I am kind of surprised that Yankovic waited this long to tackle. I mean, he's been working since the 80s when big group songs were more popular. However, the cause this song is supporting is not illegally downloading music. This is another one of the songs that kind of feel dated, even if music downloading is still prominent. This is a good song. Funny in concept, and executed in the best fashion possible for such a topic.

Straight Outta Lynwood may have seen Weird Al Yankovic explode back in the popular culture with his most popular album and single. However, it is not an improvement in terms of quality. It's a decent album, I suppose, but nothing more than that. Then again, I seem to be in the minority about "White & Nerdy" which was the driving force behind the album's popularity. There's not much clever to it, and it isn't as funny as prior albums. I do applaud "Pancreas" for actually being something original and humorous, and there are a couple songs I wouldn't mind hearing again. It isn't that Al has run out of ideas. Despite working for decades, he's still going strong, and there are always new things to riff on. Straight Outta Lynwood is another hit-or-miss effort from Yankovic, but that doesn't make him all that different from hundreds of musicians.