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With his 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun, comedic musician “Weird Al” Yankovic proves once again that he still knows how to keep his comedy sharp, even if his voice is starting to no longer become as relevant or needed in today’s society.
The gap between this and 2011's Alpocalypse, is smaller than most of his musical breaks. With that, this newest album from "Weird Al" seems to fall closer in line with 2003's Poodle Hat than most of his other recent affairs. The collection of songs on this CD are quite the variety, with songs composed to make fun of everything from the latest pop hits to Crosby, Stills & Nash.
It’s a typically unusual hodgepodge of comedy parody that, naturally, varies in quality. Without a distinct comedy focus, this makes for an album that constantly carries Yankovic’s stamp, but also doesn’t quite live up to his greatest tracks. Nevertheless, it can still prove that he can put together a funny rhyme or two.
Yankovic is certainly more socially and politically minded here than he has been in the past. With songs like “Mission Statement,” “Lame Claim to Fame,” and “First World Problems,” the artist finds himself placing his off-brand sense of humor on the failings of our unbalanced beliefs and our social mindsets. It may grow a bit repetitive, especially considering how many people online make fun of their other online users for poor grammar and whiny personalities anyway. However, Yankovic finds enough catchy beats to make the listener go on for his wild comedy rants.
As a parodist, Yankovic has always been a hit-or-miss artist. But here, the balance seems to fall somewhere down the middle, with just a couple catchy tunes along the way making the effort worth a casual background listen. In terms of the direct parodies, the best of the bunch seems to be “Word Crimes,” a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” The song avoids any tired connections to the artist’s public problems and decides to make its comedy at the expense of the ignorant public at large.
The other parodies are a mixed bag. “Inactive,” a riff in the vein of Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive,” practically lives up to its title. While his comedic re-imaginings of Lorde’s “Royals," “Foil,” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” “Handy,” just fall in the category of listenable, but utterly forgettable.
There is some fun to be have in his final track - his long-winded, but enjoyable Cat Stevens parody, “Jackson Park Express.” There is also some entertainment to be had from his now well-publicized parody “Tacky,” poking fun at Pharrell Williams’ overplayed “Happy.” That song in particular benefited from Yankovic’s impressive single-take music video featuring a variety of cameos in its three-minute run time.
Then again, it seems as though the funniest parts of this album are the stuff that are not connected to the music itself. For instances, Yankovic has been releasing a music video a day this week, with “Word Choices” and the “Tacky” videos being the first and only ones published so far. While they are among the better parodies on the album, the videos themselves have a huge impact on their success. They are playful, imaginative and constantly in motion, and that is probably what makes the songs good themselves. Additionally, the cover art for the album is also funnier than a number of the tracks on the album.
As proved by his music video for “White & Nerdy” and the countless music videos before it, Yankovic has typically found that his style of musical comedy is often best used alongside a visual medium. That, and — of course — alongside his atypical love of polka, with his catchy and jokey “NOW That’s What I Call Polka” being one of the best songs on this new album.
As enjoyable as some of these songs are, however, there are none here that quite live up to the likes of “Amish Paradise” or “Fat,” the type of joke-heavy songs that seem to be his more inspired days. Regardless, Mandatory Fun shouldn’t be outright dismissed. The fun may not earn the title of "mandatory," but, at least at times, it is hard to dismiss. It is enjoyable listening, but it will also probably make you want to immediately listen to Bad Hair Day or Even Worse when you are finished.