Running With Scissors
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/06/1999
I remember when I first discovered "Weird Al" Yankovic, way back in grade school. He dared to parody the "King Of Pop", Michael Jackson, with his song "Eat It," and Yankovic (or his song, anyway) became the talk of the playground. While I fell out of the habit of buying each of his albums as they came out, I still occasionally checked in on Yankovic to see if his style was still as sharp as the way I remembered it. Sure enough, this generation's Spike Jones was just as good as I remembered him.
After a three-year hiatus, Yankovic has returned with a new label and a new album, Running With Scissors, and he quickly proves that his satire is still sharp and cutting, but there is more of a sarcastic edge to his work, reflecting a newer, more daring Yankovic. With one notable exception, this works, creating what could possibly be Yankovic's best album.
The highlight of the disc is "The Saga Begins," a parody of both the recent "Star Wars" prequel and Don McLean's "American Pie". "Star Wars" is not new territory for Yankovic; "Yoda" on Dare To Be Stupid was a great take on The Kinks's "Lola". But to take on one of the hallmarks of '70s rock is a dangerous thing, especially to those of us (like myself) who love the original.
Fortunately for Yankovic, the song succeeds on many levels. Musically, he keeps things very close to the original song, even down to the rhythm of the lyrics. And while I haven't seen "Star Wars: Episode I" (and don't plan to - sorry, George Lucas), his take on the tale sounds like a perfect plot summary. (Warning: if you haven't seen the movie, this song will give away a lot of details.) By staying so close to the original while injecting his own voice into it, Yankovic proves that parodying popular music is serious work.
One note for the purists: yes, Yankovic's version cuts two verses from the original "American Pie". While I would have liked to have heard what Yankovic would have done with the full song, you really can't fault him. McLean had a decade's worth of news for his song; all Yankovic had was a two-hour movie.
The other parodies on this disc often will have you laughing, even if you have the lyric sheet in front of you and you know what is coming up in the song. "Jerry Springer," a wonderful take on "One Week" from Barenaked Ladies, goes so far as to slam the television circus freak who makes wrestling look like Masterpiece Theatre. This more sinister edge to some of the music actually frees Yankovic up to say what's on his mind. (Parents, don't worry, the content is still G-rated.) Likewise, Yankovic (who's supposedly very computer-literate) attacks the techno-weenies like myself on "It's All About The Pentiums," a parody of Puff Daddy's "It's All About The Benjamins".
Other groups feeling the cut of Yankovic's jibes are Cherry Poppin' Daddies ("Grapefruit Diet," another of Yankovic's "food" songs) and The Offspring ("Pretty Fly For A Rabbi" - a song which might offend some people). And, of course, there's the inevitable polka medley, "Polka Power!", featuring snippets from Backstreet Boys, Hanson and Marcy Playground, among others.
But Running With Scissors is not just a parody album; as on most of his records, Yankovic mixes parodies with originals evenly. "Germs" is heavily influenced by Nine Inch Nails, but still has enough originality to make it on its own, while "Truck Drivin' Song" and "My Baby's In Love With Eddie Vedder" (with a touch of zydeco thrown into the mix) are genuinely funny. Also included here is "The Weird Al Show Theme" from his short-lived children's program. Some may question its inclusion, but it's only 73 seconds long, and it's a lot of fun to listen to. (I have to wonder how Yankovic delivered the rapid-fire lines without pausing for breath.)
Yankovic makes only one mistake on Running With Scissors - the 11-minute stream-of-consciousness piece "Albuquerque," which takes far too long to get to the moot point that Yankovic hates sauerkraut. While there are a few funny moments on this track, it's about seven minutes too long. Still, one mistake does not ruin the album.
If you have a multimedia computer, Yankovic includes a Quicktime video featuring portions of a Disney Channel special he recorded a few years ago - though it may throw some people for a loop to see Yankovic with his trademark glasses (which, thanks to laser eye surgery, are no longer needed) and moustache on the video, and looking kind of like Ted Nugent in the album art.
There is no doubt that Yankovic is a master of the art of parody, creating many laughs while still showing reverence towards the original songs he bases his jokes on. Running With Scissors is further proof of his mastery, and is a welcome return from one of the true kings of comedy.