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Review: 'Mandatory Fun' by Weird Al Yankovic

"Mandatory Fun", the new album from "Weird Al" Yankovic, is a rollicking send up of the day's biggest hits.
Photo by David Buchan/Getty Images

“Weird Al” Yankovic is an artist who has always benefited greatly from the music video generation. His song parodies very likely wouldn't have been as successful without his iconic videos for songs like “Fat” and “White and Nerdy.” So it's no surprise that Yankovic has chosen to promote his new album, “Mandatory Fun”, out today on RCA Records, with a blitz of eight music videos in eight days on Nerdist. Fortunately for Yankovic, the album holds up completely with the gimmick.

Yankovic has stated his goal with the release of eight videos in eight days is to not have a “lead single” on the album, instead letting the audience choose which song becomes a hit. It's a gamble that should pay off because there are no filler songs among the twelve on “Mandatory Fun.” The tactic may dilute the market enough that no single hits the charts but, judging from the sheer volume of Facebook shares of the first two videos “Tacky” and “Word Crimes”, it may end up being Yankovic's best selling album.

While there may not be any “singles” from this album, it's no accident the first two video releases from “Mandatory Fun” are two of the album's strongest tracks and parodies of two of the biggest hits of 2013. “Tacky” is a pitch perfect send-up of Pharrell Williams' “Happy.” It hits that difficult middle ground that appeals to those sick of “Happy” mania and glad to see it made fun of and people who love the song and embrace another aspect of the upbeat tune. “Word Crimes” is Al Yankovic in his most natural environment; with a monster pop hit, in this case Robin Thicke's “Blurred Lines”, in his sights and a nerdy angle to take on it. “Word Crimes” is sure to become the rallying cry for grammar nazis everywhere, with lines like “you should never write words using numbers unless you're seven.. or your name is Prince” sure to hit home.

There are plenty of other standout tracks on “Mandatory Fun” as well. Lorde's omnipresent “Royals” was almost guaranteed a parody and it got an excellent one with “Foil”, which mixes Yankovic's favorite subject, food, with a penchant for conspiracy theories. Yankovic also hit it out of the park in what had to be record time with “Handy”, a parody of “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea, which was only released in February of this year. A rallying cry for the Home Depot set, it's the kind of total transformation that mark Yankovic's best songs. If there's any song that may rival “Tacky” for the album's hit, it will probably be “Handy.”

Yankovic also goes heavy with the style parodies on “Mandatory Fun”. He typically sticks to one or two per album but nearly half of the twelve tracks on “Mandatory Fun” are style parodies. Yankovic channels everyone from Pixies to Crosby, Stills, & Nash to Cat Stevens and mostly succeeds. His “Sports Song” is a college football fight song done “Weird Al” style, which is to say with every emotion taken to its most ridiculously hilarious extremes. The CSNY style parody “Mission Statement” is so jam packed with corporate buzz words that it might induce panic attacks in many a cubicle dweller.

The style parody that strikes the best chord though is the album's nine minute closer “Jackson Park Express.” It revels in its Cat Stevens-inspired obscurity and absurdist lyrics, telling the tale of an unspoken relationship between two people on a bus. It will likely remind many listeners of “Albuquerque” from “Running With Scissors.” “Albuquerque” has long been an unlikely fan favorite that separates true Alaholics from casual fans.

If there was any doubt just how much material the current music landscape provides for a satirist like Yankovic, one only has to take a look at the polka medley on “Mandatory Fun.” Long a dumping ground for songs that Yankovic couldn't quite work a full-length parody out of, “NOW That's What I Call Polka!” pulls in a number of songs that most fans assumed were almost guaranteed to get full song treatment. From “Get Lucky” to “Wrecking Ball” to “Thrift Shop”, Yankovic gives an enthusiastic polka send-up to what has to be the highest charting medley of singles he's ever done.

“Weird Al” Yankovic has hinted that “Mandatory Fun” could be his last full-length album release. Whatever the future brings for “Weird Al”, there will always be vapid pop songs that need someone like Al Yankovic to redeem them so one can only hope he stays active for many years to come.

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