Al Right Now

Is "Weird Al" Yankovic an American pop genius?

"Weird Al" Yankovic -- of "My Bologna" and "Hey Ricky" fame -- has a new record. It's called Straight Outta Lynwood (Zomba), and it's completely beautiful.

I always wrote off Weird Al as uncool, period. This was a complete misread. Totally beside the point. I didn't understand until I realized (recently) that Weird Al is a borscht-belt geezer. In order to grasp the goodness at hand, one must accept the base-level cheese. Kinda like Neil Diamond.

Weird Al will embarrass you the way your dad would. You will blush for him; he will make you feel his nerdiness at the core. Breathe through it. Live with it. Then you'll have some fun. Straight Outta Lynwood is a proud, melodic, harmonic, smart, dumb indictment and celebration of popular music and of Al's strengths -- such as rapping (!) -- and limitations, such as actual creative originality. Oh, but that's too harsh, because in his heartfelt and thoughtful mimicry, he is more honest and inspired than most pop artists today. I mean, who's more original -- She Wants Revenge or Weird Al? Indeed, it must be difficult for Al to find anything to mimic these days, since most everything is already a too-faithful ripoff of something else.

But he finds what's worthy and has his fun: A Dirrrty South sendup of Chamillionaire's "Ridin' Dirty" opens the album -- titled, of course, "White & Nerdy" ("I'm a champion at D&D/M.C. Escher, that's my favorite MC/I'll ace any trivia quiz you bring on/I'm fluent at JavaScript as well as Klingon"). This version is sonically more satisfying than the original, and leads improbably into a Beach Boys-inspired ditty titled "Pancreas" (a seemingly inevitable cross between "God Only Knows" and "Vegetables"). The Green Day-inspired "Canadian Idiot" that follows is absolutely delicious.

Al's barbershop-polka medley ("Polkarama!") nods to, among others, Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, the Pussycat Dolls, the Killers, Snoop Dogg and Kanye West. And why not? They all have it coming. Oh, yeah -- there's also a Sparks tribute ("Virus Alert")! And a Rage Against the Machine sendup, "I'll Sue Ya": "I sued Verizon, 'cause I get all depressed anytime my cell phone is roaming/I sued Colorado, 'cause you know I think it looks a little bit too much like Wyoming/I sued Neiman Marcus, 'cause they put up their Christmas decorations way out of season/I sued Ben Affleck . . .aw, do I even need a reason?"

The pièce de résistance is -- yes -- an eleven-minute spoof of R. Kelly's pop opus "Trapped in the Closet," titled "Trapped in the Drive-Thru." Its lyrics are utterly banal, and yet you can't stop listening. The song, like the album, sounds good. Weird Al's musical fandom and love of harmony shine through at all times, and he expertly skewers the affected syncopation of current R&B/hip-hop delivery. Maybe that's who Weird Al is at heart: a music critic of the best kind, like the goofs who created the rock-and roll-comic strip Great Pop Things, or Lester Bangs. I never did read those Kurt Cobain diaries, but it doesn't surprise me to learn that he called Yankovic an American pop genius.

 
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