REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/23/2011
After three decades as a performer and parody artist, when you pick up an album by “Weird Al” Yankovic, there are going to be precious few surprises. You know, before you even rip the shrink-wrap off the jewel case, that the disc is going to contain parodies of popular songs currently playing on the radio, as well as originals from Yankovic that parody groups by the style the music is written in. And, of course, there is the obligatory polka medley.
As a fan and a reviewer, I’ve also noticed that there is precious little “middle ground” regarding a Yankovic album… normally, it’s either really good, or really bad. For every Straight Outta Lynwood, there is a Poodle Hat. Coming off what was quite possibly the strongest album of his career, Straight Outta Lynwood, it can be assumed that there would be pressure for Yankovic to top that disc – explaining, perhaps, why it took five years for the follow-up, Alpocalypse, to come out. And while it doesn’t top its predecessor, there’s plenty on this disc to show that Yankovic has not lost his edge, even if his clean-cut image takes a slight hit.
Yankovic had two uphill battles with this disc – the first being that five of the tracks had previously been released as the Internet Leaks EP. The other is the high expectations that people were going to have following all of the fracas surrounding his Lady Gaga parody, “Perform This Way”.
Maybe it’s ironic that “Perform This Way” is the weakest song on this disc. As far as parodies go, it’s hardly inspired – though I’d guess it’s hard to write a song like this when Gaga’s ever-changing image is almost a parody of itself. A weak track that the parody is based on, combined with lyrics about someone who isn’t funny, equals a song that just falls flat.
Fortunately, this is the only real mis-step on Alpocalypse. While the remaining eleven tracks break no new ground, they do stand well on their own. If anything, this disc is yet another reminder that Yankovic is an extremely capable songwriter on his own, and perhaps one day will find he does not have to rely on parodies to get people’s attention.
Exhibit “A”: “Skipper Dan,” a tale about a man’s lofty career ambitions for the klieg lights of Broadway smashed against the rocks of reality, as he serves as a tour guide on a boat ride. (Yeah, that one rings true for a lot of people, I’m sure.) Exhibit “B”: “CNR,” a parody of the “Chuck Norris is God” style of postings, substituting the karate master for Charles Nelson Reilly, eternal game show contestant. The transformation, though, works, and Yankovic mines comedy gold on both songs.
The “clean cut” image of Yankovic creating completely family-friendly material takes two hits – the most noticeable on the fantastic song “Stop Forwarding This Crap To Me” – a song I would like to send to every co-worker who clogs my e-mail with shit they don’t take thirty seconds to research. I’m not knocking Yankovic for his use of a mild expletive – or even the use of the word “turd” on “If That Isn’t Love” – but seeing he’s based a career without having to resort to such words, it’s a bit surprising to be hit with two instances on the same album.
In fact, Alpocalypse proves that Yankovic’s originals are often stronger than the parodies. Yes, “Party In The CIA” is inspired, and both “TMZ” and “Another Tattoo” are a lot of fun to listen to. But I’d rather listen to what is usually declared a style parody of the Doors on “Craigslist” (featuring Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek) than his parody of T.I. on “Whatever You Like”. And as for “Polka Face,” the obligatory polka medley? Well – it’s exactly what one would expect on a “Weird Al” album, breaking new ground, but kinda fun to listen to.
If anything, Internet Leaks material proves to be some of the best on this disc, especially when bookended with songs like “TMZ” and “Stop Forwarding This Crap To Me”. Some fans might balk at buying these tracks a second time – but they can be comforted by the knowledge that with the deluxe edition of this disc, they get a DVD with specially-made videos of several of the songs.
Alpocalypse isn’t the earth-shaking harbinger of doom that one might have expected, but coming off as strong an album as Straight Outta Lynwood was, it’s a slightly weaker, but suitable, counterpart, and does indeed contain some of Yankovic’s best work.