I am not much of a concert guy; I much prefer conventions and games nights. But there was one show that I begged my mother to go to when it hit town : Wierd Al. In my youth Wierd Al was a fixture. I had at least three cassette tapes of his music rattling around in my desk drawers. In many ways he was my only connection to popular music. I listened to the CBC (which had yet to be gutted by years of conservative policy), not the top 40, if I did not have my head stuck in a book.
The concert was exactly what you would expect from Wierd Al; a mix of bright colours, frantic movement, and genius wordplay, like a billion dollar carnival parade put on by the world’s friendliest grammar teacher.
In many ways Wierd Al was ahead of his time. Crazy costumes. Deep knowledge of esoteric subjects injected into pop music. Witty wordplay. The man is a true prophet of the age of geek.
And as we enter into an age where geeky shows, art, and pursuits have become increasingly mainstream, Wierd Al has finally reached #1. His new album, Mandatory Fun, topped the charts last week. Likely a few of the old guard mundanes were stunned. But hard work pays off, and I really do feel that Wierd Al is a visionary, sticking to geeky subjects all through the eighties and nineties, heralding the blossoming age of geek culture.
Check out the new videos for Mandatory fun on his official site.
Now for the part where I do my first, and likely only album review. Here are the songs from my least favourite to the one that blows my mind, along with my thoughts about the song. Keep in mind that I am not a music reviewer.
- Lame Claim to Fame: The title says it all.
- Best Line: I got an email from the prince of Nigeria… well, he sure sounded legit.
- Review: This is the only song that I am not delighted with on some level. It is about people trying to edify themselves with unimportant connections to celebrities, something we get a lot of these days. It isn’t bad, but it pales in comparison to the rest of the songs on the album. The video, however, is awesome, with a great jib-jab style collage animation.
- Handy: Handy is a song about a handyman, or rather those home improvement shows that some of us seem obsessed with.
- Best Line: I got ninety nine problems but a switch ain’t one.
- Review: Handy has some great lines and a decent video. References to Jay Z and MacGyver really made me laugh.
- Foil: A song about aluminum foil: what could go wrong?
- Best Line: Don’t mind that, I’m protected because I made this hat!
- Review: Full disclosure: I love the song Royals. Madly. Foil is a great remake of Royals that starts off as cute wordplay about the uses of aluminum foil in food preservation and then descends into conspiracy territory and ends with Al wearing a foil hat and being dragged off by men in black. This song is quite clever, chock full of references to aliens, the Illuminati, the fake moon landing, and other conspiracy theories. Interestingly however, there is also a bit of a jab at the NSA in there… you know, the conspiracy that actually turns out to be more or less true. This is what I really like about Mandatory Fun, not only is Wierd Al entertaining as always, he actually works some deeper topical references into the songs.
- Sports Song: A big band sports cheer, Wierd Al style.
- Best Line: Our players are really fast, and strong, and brave… and your guys, not so much.
- Review: I would kill to hear this cheer repeated by an audience at a college game; I would happily send my children to any institution that could manage such a feat. Sports song is an ultra complex, wittily worded cheer. It is both a send up and a love-note to the songs that we hear played during breaks at the super-bowl or local sports arenas. To me, it really captures the modern geek’s relationships with sports in our world, that incredibly complex industry that our fathers and grandfathers built.
- Tacky: The banner song of the album.
- Best Line: Practice my twerking moves in line at the DMV.
- Review: The Video is great, full of favoured geek celebrities in tacky clothing, Wierd Al front-and-centre. Tacky is just fun. The wordplay is great. The only thing that could make the video better is Don Cherry in one of his famous suits. On a deeper level the song is about the occasional social awkwardness of geek culture, from the faux-pas that we often make, to odd sense of style, to our occasional bouts of obsessive behaviour.
- First World Problems: A song about the complaints of people who really should not complain.
- Best Line: My house is so big I can’t get wifi in the kitchen.
- Review: First World Problems are problems that people incessantly complain about that show just how over-privileged and lucky they are. It is a bit of a meme in some places. If someone uttered the best line above as a serious complaint you would likely feel the desire to smack them. In an age where inequality is becoming more and more obvious, even to those of us who live in the blissful, coddled ignorance of the first world, this song really hits home.
- Word Crimes: A song about grammar
- Best Line: The whole damned song.
- Review: Robin Thicke is an abominable throwback visited upon us by an overly rich family. His song, Blurred Lines, is catchy drivel with a video full of naked women up on youtube (go look, I’ll wait). I’ll forgive Pharrell Williams for hanging with him, because Pharrell is ubiquitous and also talented. This song takes a song that I despise, and turns it into one that I love. Word Crimes should be shown in schools. I should listen to it every time I sit down to write. The worldplay is genius. It leaves me in awe of Wierd Al… Plus the irony of turning the dumbest hit song this year into the smartest is like sweet buttercream icing on my mom’s lemon poppyseed cake. Just perfect.
- Yes, I know I make most of the mistakes in the song frequently… 😀
- The video is awesome.
- Mission Statement: Do you like whiteboards?
- Best Line: Monetize our assets, monetize our assets, mooooooonetize our aaaaassets.
- Review: For most people, Word Crimes or Tacky will be their favoured songs. The thing is for a while, when I actually had a job that paid well, I lived Mission Statement. I hated that world so much that I left behind good pay to scrape a living as a general labourer trying to grapple with the uncertainties of success as a self-published author. Mission statement seems like the jokes that I would make with the guys at ASAP. In a general sense this song is about how many corporations rape language, exploiting it like they do everything else in their mindless drive to profit. I laughed, I shed a tear, I got a little angry. This song is a beautiful criticism of something I hate. It makes me feel better about my life and how I have chosen to live it. Thank you, Wierd Al.
- The video of this song is both beautiful and baleful, a scrolling whiteboard of awesome.
I like Mandatory Fun. It gives me heart to see someone I like gain well-deserved success. It is vindication of my tastes. It gives me hope for the future. If an album as smart and geeky as this can cut through the noise, then maybe we can too! Onward geeks, to glory!