Monday, July 25, 2011

Music: Alpocalypse review

I've been a "Weird Al" Yankovic fan for a long time (the claymation music video for "Jurassic Park" is still a highlight of my youth), but even I have to admit that he's been off the radar for the past few years. 2006's "Straight Outta Lynwood" was such a smash hit that it seemed like Weird Al might have finally wrote himself into a corner - how can you top "White and Nerdy," a parody so good it was actually a top ten song in the Billboard Hot 100? As it turned out, Weird Al was just waiting for the next beat in the musical zeitgeist, in the form of a meat dress-wearing, egg-hatching Tisch School of the Arts dropout:

"Perform This Way" is one of the new tracks in "Alpocalypse" (many of the album's songs were available on the EP "Internet Leaks"), and it neatly embodies the problems Weird Al faces when pastiching today's pop. You see, Yankovic has been around for so long that the musical acts he's parodying now are actually influenced by artists that he has parodied in the past. Since Lady Gaga is a Madonna disciple, "Perform This Way" feels a lot like something Weird Al could have written in his "Like A Surgeon" days, and that robs Al's music of some of the freshness it had when it was aping Michael Jackson and Nirvana.

Moreover, with modern technology, everyone from "The Lonely Island" to your next-door neighbor can put a parody song on the Web; it's become harder to separate yourself from the herd. Thankfully, Weird Al still has a gift for musical mimicry, and most of the tracks on "Alpocalypse" put it to good use. Take "TMZ," an assault on paparazzi and the badly-behaving celebs that fuel them. It's a pitch-perfect recreation of Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me," down to the banjo plucks and drum hits, though the lyrics only obliquely criticize Swift's penchant for roasting celebrity boyfriends in her songs.

"Party in the CIA," a take-off on Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA," is a more direct parody: Al takes the plot of the sunny pop hit (where the narrator moves out to L.A. and tries to fit in) and translates it to the dark world of intelligence gathering. There's something distinctly Weird Al about combining a sugary pop melody with lyrics that reference waterboarding terrorists and overthrowing third-world countries:

Better put your hands up and get in the van,
Or else you'll get blown away!
Stagin' a coup like yeah,
Brainwashin' moles like yeah,
We only torture the folks we don't like,
You're probably going to be OK!

Yeeeaaahhh, it's a party in the CIA!
Yeeeaaahhh, it's a party in the CIA!


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