THE ALBUM cover is a spoof of various communist propaganda posters. There, centre stage, stands Weird Al Yankovic, a man of average height and long curly hair that plays pop parodies on an accordion. Also he’s currently got the number one album in the US. Whether this is a representation of the fact that Weird Al is officially as much of a pop star as those he satirises or the fact that people don’t buy albums any more, it’s important. Mandatory Fun is Weird Al’s fourteenth studio album and it’s amazing to think, looking back at early videos of a young Yankovic playing ‘My Bologna’ that he’s still going and is probably still as strong now as he was back then.
I should say: If I have one problem with Mandatory Fun, it’s a problem I’ve had with a lot of Weird Al’s output and it’s the fact that it doesn’t feel like a cohesive album; more a disparate collection of songs, but then that tends to be a running problem with a lot of studio comedy albums. It’s a very high quality album where even the weaker songs benefit from the same level of studio polish as the songs it parodies. Considering he self-produced, it’s certainly impressive how close many of the specific parodies are in sound to their originals.
It is likely that the album’s more pointed parodies such as Robin Thicke/internet grammar issues takedown ‘Word Crimes’ and the ‘so accurate I’m surprised a real builder hasn’t used it’ Iggy Azaelia-aping ‘Handy’ (both great in their own right) but for me the stronger material comes from his style tributes. ‘First World Problems’ perfectly captures the Pixies’ half sung, half screamed delivery and crunching guitar lines over an ode to problems like having a house so big you can’t get wi-fi in the kitchen.
Then there’s the genius idea of ‘Mission Statement’, building an entire song around business buzzwords set to the counter-culture stylings of Crosby, Stills & Nash. The strongest moment on the album is reserved for the final song ‘Jackson Park Express’, a nine minute Cat Stevens riffing epic about a romance on a bus ride that is by turns hilarious and just the right side of being achingly poignant.
As with any collection, there are weak notes. ‘Sports Song’ and Imagine Dragons parody ‘Inactive’ are disappointingly one-note and Foo Fighters parody ‘My Own Eyes’ seems to lack even that. Yet these are three songs out of twelve and it’s hard to linger on the bad points when the horn section kicks in for a rendition of ‘Thrift Shop’ on his now traditional mid-album polka medley.
Weird Al has been around for more than thirty years now and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down or growing up. This is the best possible thing about him. At this rate, long after most of his 80s contemporaries have retired or squandered their goodwill, Yankovic will still be finding new ways to rewrite modern songs to be about food. I, for one, look forward to hearing him for a long time coming.