Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Music Album Review: Alpocalypse by Weird Al Yankovic

It's disappointing that nearly half of "Alpocalypse" is rehashed material, but even so, it's a decent but underwhelming effort.
“Alpocalypse” is Weird Al Yankovic’s thirteenth album, and was released just over four months ago. That’s quite a statement, thirteen albums in twenty-eight years; Alfred has had a heck of a career. I wouldn’t say his career has been the greatest, or the easiest, or the most successful, but he’s a legend at the craft he performs and deserves the respect of every musician regardless of age or genre.

Just in case you’ve never heard of Weird Al Yankovic, and trust me, there are those who haven’t, Weird Al is now 52 years old. He is a parody artist, one of the first, and now probably the most famous worldwide. He takes a song that was popular and changes the lyrics for comedy value. He has had many ‘booms’ in his career, his first being the early eighties when he started off, back in 1984 he had a very famous parody called “Eat It”, a version of “Beat It” by Michael Jackson. “Eat It” took the music of “Beat It” and changed the lyrics, and made a song about someone who was fussy with his food “just eat it!”. It was with this track Weird Al started to find he was onto something with his songs. In 1988 he found more success with a second Michael Jackson track, this one was “Bad”, which he turned into “Fat”, a song naturally about a man being overweight. In 1992 another decent hit was “Smells Like Nirvana”, a parody of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and this song took the mickey out of the fact that Kurt Cobain’s famous vocals were hard to understand sometimes. Weird Al Yankovic found it difficult in the nineties when many of his songs barely got airplay, but of those tracks, the most famous was in 1996 when he parodied Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise” and turned it into “Amish Paradise” a song celebrating the lifestyle of the Amish.

But it wasn’t really until 2006, five years ago, when Weird Al had finally got the major recognition he arguably deserves. He released “White and Nerdy” a parody of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’”. The original was about ‘riding dirty’; gangsters riding in cars with drugs, and Weird Al changed the lyrics dramatically into a song about white nerds who want to be cool and hang out with the cultured black population. It was a brilliant parody, no, a brilliant song, and was the platform Weird Al needed to finally start to get the recognition of the younger population. The album that came out with that hit, “Straight Outta Lynwood”, Weird Al’s twelfth effort, was a huge hit and was fantastic. I reviewed it around five years ago but that review has disappeared into the obscurities of the internet. I gave it ****1/4 stars and touch on its greatness in my Top 10 Albums of the Noughties here. 

So this is Weird Al’s thirteenth major effort and his first since the fantastic album that was “Straight Outta Lynwood”, released five years ago. So what has Weird Al got up his sleeve this time? Well, if I say that the material on this album is new I’d by lying. Yes, this is Weird Al’s first major album in five years but three years ago Weird Al released “Internet Leaks”, a five track EP, and five of the songs on this album are actually those songs. Keep in mind this album is twelve tracks long, that means nearly half the album is re-released material. Now, Weird Al hasn’t been criticised for this by many people but I personally wasn’t approving of this move. For the fans who bought “Internet Leaks”, the hardcore Weird Al fans, it probably feels like being a little ripped off I’m sure. The songs that were on Internet Leaks are "CNR", "Skipper Dan", "Craigslist", "Ringtone"  and "Whatever You Like".

The album starts with "Perform This Way" a parody of "Born This Way" by mega star of the moment Lady Gaga. Now this song has a story of its own; Weird Al approached Lady Gaga's management for permission to use her song, not that he has to, by law he can do parodys but out of respect he always asks the original artists. He bent over backwards for her management, something he doesn't do, he gave them ideas of what the song will be about, made all the proceedings to go to charity, and even, make the song for them to listen to before it was released. That also, was created on the spot as he was busy doing an Australian tour. The management rejected the idea, and it was a complete waste of Al's time. As a consolation he released it for nothing on Youtube. Lady Gaga was hounded about this on Twitter for the next 24 hours, and it turns out she had no idea about Weird Al trying to contact her, and that she was a fan and definitely approved his version of her song.

Now onto my review of the track itself. Well, I don't really think it's that good to be honest. It's okay, but it lacks the invention that other parody's Al has done in the past. I need to give credit where it's due, Weird Al didn't have much time to produce this track, but surely, after he got full and proper permission from Gaga herself, surely he should have reworked the song and made it sound richer, and more crisp? Based on how the song came about, you can feel that the song was rushed and not done as finely as it could have been. Another problem personally I have with this song is that it's aimed directly at Gaga and her lifestyle rather than a complete parody lyrically. Most of my favourite Weird Al tracks are where he takes the music from a song and changes the lyrics dramatically into a completely different topic, rather than talk about the artist. One of the reasons "White and Nerdy" was so good was that the song had nothing to do with gangsters driving fast and taking drugs. It was about white nerds doing nerdy things. It makes the song stand out on its own while being funny at the same time.

Track two is a style parody. Once again if you're not familiar with Weird Al's work, as well as do direct parodies to artist's tracks, Al also does style parody, where he takes an artist's general sound and makes a song in that style. He doesn't often release style parodies as singles but he usually has a few on each album. Track two is one of my favourite style parodies on any Weird Al album. It's called "CNR" and it's done in the style of The White Stripes, and it sounds fantastic. The guitars and the drums are great and sound just like the original band, and the lyrics are pretty damn good too. "CNR" tells the story of Charles Nelson Reilly, a real life actor and comedian, most famous for his work a game show called "Match Game". He died a few years ago, and Weird Al pays overdramatic homage to the guy, talking about his superhuman capabilities, in a very similar vein to the internet meme Chuck Norris Facts. It's a great song on its own and even funnier with all the silly 'facts' about CNR.

"TMZ" is the third track and like the website itself, it has loads of 'oh my god!' celebrity stories in its lyrics and just mocks the stupid obsession that many people have with celebrity status. The song it's parodying is "You Belong To Me" by Taylor Swift. Track four is "Skipper Dan" and is a style parody of alternative rock band Weezer. The lyrics are about a man who despite having a degree has to resort to working as a tour guide. These two songs are okay, they're a step below the quality from the previous album "Straight Outta Lynwood".

Next on the album is the polka. Again, if you're not too familiar with Yankovic's work in nearly every album there's a polka styled medley, that incorporates many famous songs all wrapped up in a polka track. They're fan favourites and are often always fun to listen to. In this track, appropriately called "Polka Face" mixes a lot of the more modern pop and RnB tracks like "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga, "Womanizer" by Britney Spears, "So What" by Pink, "I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry and "Tik Tok" by Kesha. Comparing this to the other polkas on the other albums, it's pretty good, not the best, but it's difficult to rate polkas as Weird Al has to work with what's popular today.

One of the best highlights of the album for me is "Craiglist", another style parody, this one paying homage to The Doors and even the original keyboard player from the original band plays in this track. "Craiglist" sounds fantastic, once again the music is close to perfection in comparison to the originals. The song itself is about the website Craiglist, which specialises in online advertising for pretty much anything and everything. The lyrics are great and it's just one of the best songs on the album.

I personally find the album gets better as it goes on, with further highlights being track eight "Ringtone", a style parody of Queen and talks about how annoying personal mobile ringtones are. While the quality of the Queen parody is not as good as the previous ones on The Doors and The White Stripes, the lyrics make up for that by being very funny. In terms of direct parodies my favourite is track nine, "Another Tattoo" which is a parody of "Nothin' On You" by B.o.B. and naturally talks about a guy getting many many tattoos. As I said previously, my favourite parodies tend to be the ones that change the lyrical subject completely, and this is a great example of that, the lyrics work so well with the beat and style of the original song.

Weird Al likes to have a song of great magnitude either near the end of the album or as the last track. He follows this trend by having "Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me" as the final track. The song is not as long as similar songs on other albums, but is very similar in style to "Don't Download This Song", the final track from "Straight Outta Lynwood". In fact, it almost sounds exactly the same but the lyrics have changed. I don't know if it's just me that feels this way but because the songs sound so similar I can't help but feel that it's a bit lacklustre in effort by Yankovic.

All in all "Alpocalypse" is a decent but disappointing effort. "Straight Outta Lynwood" was such a great album and all the pieces in the jigsaw fit perfectly, where as this album feels disjointed. There are some very good tracks on here and some songs that are just below par. Having nearly half the album full of rehashed material was a bad move in my opinion and definitely has a direct impact on the quality of the album. If you like Weird Al Yankovic then I think you'll like this album overall, but if you're new to his work then I'd avoid starting your interest here, and get "Straight Outta Lynwood" instead, that album has great quality all over from start to finish where as this album lacks in certain areas.

Rating: ***3/4 stars
Stand out tracks: "CNR", "Craigslist", "Another Tattoo"

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  1. It's disapointing that you did not know that internet leaks was going to be part of the new album, because that was made pretty clear when it was released. In fact, many digital song providers gave a discount on the whole album if you previously bought internet leaks.

  2. I did know and yes it was clear, but it's still bad to say "first album in five years!" and half the album is already released material. It's good that some people got a discount for already having "Internet Leaks", but I just don't agree with it. Most of the people buying "Alpocalypse" probably bought "Internet Leaks" and I'm sure they were a little disappointed they'd already heard and bought half of it already.

    Maybe it's just me, I understand what you're saying though, I just disagree with it. =)