"And Alexander wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer." - Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock
This is it. This is the end. Today is the final part of The Weird Al Chronicles. At least for now, I suppose. In 2011, five years after releasing Straight Outta Lynwood, Weird Al Yankovic released his most recent album, Alpocalypse. It won't be his last. Not just because he still wants to work, but because he is under contract for one more after this. Will he release one of those albums that artists sometimes do when they want to stick it to their label for their contract? Will he adopt a symbol for a name? Will it be the symbol for the Yuan? Alpocalypse is Yankovic's 13th album, and it came almost 30 years after his first. That's a tremendously long career for any musician. However, it could also easily lead to a lack of ideas and stagnation and what have you. Indeed, I have mentioned through the course of these articles how a lot of Weird Al's songs started to fall into a handful of categories. Then again, when you draw inspiration from the work of others, and others are always working, you've always got a jumping off point.
First off, this album has the best, funniest cover of all of Al's releases. Drawing inspiration from the fairly simple pun title, the cover depicts a scene from Armageddon. It's like a metal cover. Any metal cover, I imagine. Take that, broad swath of musicians! Anyway, we espy the four horsemen of the apocalypse, but alongside three gruesome, fearsome folks, we see Weird Al, dressed as always in a bright Hawaiian shirt, smiling and waving happily. It is pretty straightforward, but it is still really funny. Also, I actually had a bit more awareness of the songs on this album than on the last couple, and had even heard some of them. This is because I saw Weird Al and his band perform one of the songs on The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson after he was interviewed. I wish Yankovic would appear on more late night talk shows. He's a funny interview and he can double as a musical act! I'd also like to see him host Saturday Night Live. I'd like to see a lot of things. Additionally, I heard a couple of the songs as break music on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast, formerly the Comedy Death Ray Radio podcast, formerly not a thing (note: I took this joke from Doug Benson). Scott Aukerman is a big Weird Al fan, and often has him on the show as a guest, and he was on the TV version of the show as well. So, listening to Alpocalypse wasn't quite the same experience as listening to, say, Poodle Hat.
The album started off with the big song, the one that garnered a lot of news, which perhaps helped promote the album to big sales when it came out. And I mean big sales, at least in this modern era, as Alpocalypse hit number nine on the Billboard Top 200. That is impressive. Anyway, the song in question is, of course, "Perform This Way" a parody of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." The saga behind it, boiled down to its essence, is as follows. Weird Al reached out to get permission to do the parody, which he always does, because he is a gentleman and a scholar. Gaga's management basically had Al bend backwards to try and get permission, but they still denied it. This became known to the general public, which led to much outcry, at which point Lady Gaga said she was never informed by her management about Al's song, and then granted permission. "Perform This Way" could live!
This song is also notable because it is one of Weird Al's songs that actually really serve as a parody of the original and of the artist. In the song, Yankovic takes on the guise of Gaga, and sings about all the ridiculous things he does when performing. All the bizarre outfits and what have you. There is a pretty funny skirt steak joke. It's not like that song where Yankovic takes a (deserving) dig at Billy Ray Cyrus. This is more of a playful parody. It's also a good song, with some funny lyrics and a strong performance. I just have to wonder how it will age. Maybe I am wrong in this, but I don't feel like Lady Gaga really has much shelf life to her and her schtick. In a few years, folks may barely remember her and her clothes made of meats. Oh well. This the life Weird Al chose. Plus, he was in good company. I mean, The Simpsons had an episode basically dedicated to Lady Gaga. It will age even worse than the one inspired by California's gubernatorial recall election.
Alpocalypse features two song parodies of works done by teenaged starlets, both of which are very strong. First, there's "TMZ" which is the song I saw Weird Al do on Craig Ferguson's show. However, at the time I did not realize it was a spoof of Taylor Swift's "You Belong with Me," a song I have not heard. "TMZ" is about the creepy, predatory nature of the modern tabloid culture, which he takes some pokes at for their absurdity and their awfulness. It's actually a topic that, back in the day, wouldn't have resonated as much with the audience, but it was a perfect choice for this era of ours. It's also a funny song, well-crafted and with some humorous notions for what the paparazzi are capturing. This song manages to allow Al to be silly and goofy, which seems to be what he likes to do best, while also letting him be a bit pointed and satirical.
This is also the case with "Party in the CIA" a parody of Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A." Just as with the Taylor Swift song, I have no heard the original, but I have heard it mashed up with Notorious B.I.G.'s "Party and Bullshit." Weird Al's song happily chronicles life in the CIA, which just so happens to include toppling governments, assassinating folks, and torture. These are strange waters for Yankovic, but he navigated them well. I found "Party in the CIA" very funny, as I appreciated its dark humor and its sardonic bend. The notion of a happy party song serving as an anthem for the seedier stuff the CIA gets into is a strong one for a comedy song, and Yankovic executed it as well as the CIA has executed foreign nationals (or so I've heard.)
There are two more parodies. One of them, "Another Tattoo" which is a parody of some song called "Nothin' on You" by someone, or something, called B.o.B., featuring Bruno Mars. Listening to this album, I realized I had been really out of the popular music loop for a while. Of course, I was aware of this to some degree, which is a part of why I started writing the Hit Parade column, but I had not heard any of the songs being parodied on this album. Anyway, this song is mediocre. It's about dumb, excessive tattoos, and it just sort of exists.
The other one is another strong outing, and is also, I think, the only Weird Al parody to actually directly copy the title of the original. It is entitled "Whatever You Like" just like the TI song it is based upon. I don't know what the original is about, but I imagine it is similar to Al's song, but more extravagant in its scope. Yankovic's song involves him offering up to the lady he is pitching woo to whatever she wants, provides it fits into his very limited budget due to the recession. Still, that gives her the choice of all the finest fast food establishments and such. While this song isn't necessarily "fun" or "light" given the context, it's a good idea for the era, and the lyrics are really shrewd and strong. It's funny, but it also has an actual sense of an emotional narrative, which isn't necessarily something Al normally does. It's a really good song, although once America is on sound financial footing again, it may not resonate as much. So, 50 years from now, maybe folks won't get much from "Whatever You Like." I'm joking of course. Make that 100 years.
"Polka Face" is the polka song. As I mentioned earlier, due to my lack of pop music indulgences during the late 2000s, I had little awareness of the songs being covered. As such, I couldn't necessarily enjoy the juxtaposition between Al's version and the original. However, like pretty much Weird Al polka, it's perfectly fine and I don't have much in the way of strong feelings about it.
Now, to turn my attention to the originals. I wouldn't consider any of these songs to be "weak" or among Al's worse offerings, but there are a couple that are pretty mediocre. "Ringtone" is about how a lousy ringtone is ruining Weird Al's life. It feels a little clunky, almost like Yankovic just wanted to be talking about modern stuff that he couldn't cover in his early days. This worked on other songs, but less so on this one. Plus, the jokes just don't work that well. "If That Isn't Love" is so non-descript I can barely remember anything about it, other than I don't really want to listen to it again to jog my memory. It is one of those love songs Weird Al does that lack any real romance and where the logic of the protagonist is really off and skewed. It's probably the weakest song on the album.
"Craigslist" is polarizing to me. On the one hand, the context of the song is kind of funny, even if they are pretty generic Craigslist jokes. On the other hand, it's done in the style of The Doors, and I can't stand The Doors. Yankovic does a fine Jim Morrison impression, including his yelping vocals, but musically this song is a bit of a drag, because it succeeds as a Doors style parody. "CNR" is the prerequisite song that allows Weird Al to indulge in his love of abject absurdity. Done in the style of The White Stripes, in particular "Icky Thump," the song is in the vein of that "Bill Bratsky" series of sketches from SNL, but the subject at hand is Charles Nelson Reilly. This is not exactly Weird Al capturing the zeitgeist, but I find the esoteric quality of the reference amusing. The jokes are hit-and-miss. Some of them are very funny, some of them are eye rolling. Overall, it's definitely worth a listen, and the good outweighs the bad, but with Al throwing so much at the wall, something was bound not to stick.
The best two originals are "Skipper Dan" and the album closer "Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me." The first is another oddly somber, dark song for a Yankovic tune. The tone of Alpocalypse is probably a bleaker than any other Weird Al work. Is world weariness setting in? Anyway, the song is about a guy named Dan who had acting success in college and on the stage, but now finds himself working on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, and the sad existential ennui this causes him. I like this new side of Weird Al, as it brought a lot of successful stuff to this album. Lastly, "Stop Forwarding That crap to Me" is another song of modern times, with Weird Al chastising folks for sending him dumb e-mail chain letters and such. Do those still exist? I used to get those way back in the day, when I had AOL or whatever. However, that was years ago. Anyway, it's a good, funny song over a nice piano tune.
Well... Alpocalypse is a bit of a pleasant surprise. After 12 albums and many years of generating music, Weird Al's 13th album may be his best. Seriously. At this point, I've heard so much of his music over a short period of time, so I would have to chew it over a bit, but this is definitely one of his strongest outings. It is surprisingly original and fresh, has a different tone to it that I liked, and is funny. There are no bad songs, just a couple mediocre ones, and a few really good tunes. Few musicians could make an album this good this long into their career. After listening to Alpocalypse, whenever his next album comes out, I shall not feel any trepidation. Weird Al has shown why he is an institution, and will continue to be.