“Weird Al” Yankovic has been releasing music for more than thirty years now. For a man most commonly associated with the ever-trendy accessories of accordion, Hawaiian-shirt, and flowing locks of curly brown hair usually not seen outside of shampoo commercials let alone on nerdy white middle-aged men, he’s had a remarkable ability to remain relevant.
As proof that his finger is as pressed against the pop culture pulse of America as ever, consider these incredible facts: in his third decade of pop parody, Weird Al’s last album (Straight Outta Lynwood) was the first Top-10 charting album of his career and “White & Nerdy” his first ever Top-10 hit. NPR Music’s Stephen Thompson has been campaigning (only slightly in jest) that Yankovic’s impressive longevity and still-growing popularity is worthy of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – Rolling Stone readers even named him the artist most overlooked for that honor in 2009, ahead of Rush, the Moody Blues, and recent inductees Alice Cooper and Tom Waits. Considering that his career has outlasted many enshrinees (and that he’s recorded parodies or pastiches of many of those same legends with impeccable accuracy) it’s not hard to see why when you actually consider his legacy. And now, with his thirteenth studio album Alpocalypse, Weird Al is arguably at the peak of his powers.
It starts with “Perform This Way,” Yankovic’s take on the biggest pop star in the world right now, Lady Gaga. Of course, considering that he’s already taken on Michael Jackson (twice), Madonna, and Nirvana while at the peaks of their respective popularities, Weird Al’s no stranger to hitting the zeitgeist square on the head. “Perform This Way” and its recently-released music video (embedded above) are pitch-perfect lampoons of Gaga’s career while maintaining a healthy respect and admiration for the object of his satire (a Yankovic trademark; never once have his targets been treated with scorn or malice.) Other current chart-toppers parodied on Alpocalypse include Taylor Swift (whose “You Belong with Me” here is a countrified chiding of the paparazzi in “TMZ”), Miley Cyrus (whose “Party in the U.S.A.” becomes “Party in the CIA,” the light-hearted tale of an incompetent spy’s adventures in the War on Terror) and B.o.B. & Bruno Mars (whose “Nothin’ on You” is made into an ink-obsessed artist’s delightful tribute to “Another Tattoo.”)
The last direct parody on Alpocalypse is “Whatever You Like” (after T.I.’s 2008 hit of the same name), which first appeared as a single shortly after the original hit the airwaves and later surfaced on Weird Al’s Internet Leaks digital EP in 2009, containing five internet-only singles that are all also included on this album. Their presence (and the possible drag that only seven of the twelve tracks on Alpocalypse are truly new to those who didn’t hear the Internet Leaks singles as they came out) is pretty much the only drawback to this album, which is otherwise a front-to-back success with every track.
“CNR,” the second track on the album and one of the already-released singles from 2009, is a goofy paean to Charles Nelson Reilly in the hard-crunching style of the White Stripes, and it’s here that Yankovic’s musical talent (and that of his more-than-able band as well) are on full display. Throughout this album and his career, Yankovic has recreated every note of the songs and styles he parodies, never relying on pre-recorded backing tracks. His band effortlessly shifts from Lady Gaga’s techno-pop to the White Stripes’ garage rock to Taylor Swift’s country twang in the first three tracks alone.
One would easily be excused for not believing that the same people are playing on each track, but they are. Weird Al’s band consists of just him and four very talented musicians led by his longtime drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz. On “Craigslist,” another of the 2009 singles and a style pastiche of the Doors, Yankovic actually got the Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek himself to play on the track, and Taylor Hanson does the same on the gleefully Hanson-inspired “If That Isn’t Love,” lending an even greater air of authenticity to the proceedings.
Alpocalypse is arguably Yankovic’s most consistently entertaining album yet. All of the parodies are well-written and happily take the original, familiar melodies to quite unexpected places. “Polka Face,” the traditional polka medley (about which Yankovic famously jokes that, by transposing various hits of the day into an accordion-based romp, he improves them, “as God intended”) may just be the most inspired one he’s recorded to date. The originals, especially “If That Isn’t Love” and “Skipper Dan,” the surprisingly empathetic tale of an actor with disappointed aspirations, are all just as catchy as the parodied hits they sit next to on the album if not more so. If there’s a track that misfires at all, it’s the Queen pastiche “Ringtone,” but if failing to accurately recreate Freddie Mercury’s falsetto is the only misstep on the album it’s a most forgivable offense in the grand scheme of things.
Alpocalypse runs for 45 minutes of breezy, cheerful summer listening. The campaign to Make the Rock Hall “Weird” may be overdoing it a bit much, but when one thinks about it there may not be many valid reasons against it. ”Weird Al” Yankovic is back and, frankly, a world without his particular brand of joyous, humor-filled pop music would be one seriously lacking.