My review of “Alpocalypse”, by “Weird Al” YankovicPosted: July 3, 2011
Released 4 years, 8 months, and 26 days after “Straight Outta Lynwood”, the “Alpocalypse” was a long time coming.
Granted, we had heard five of the tracks already as part of the Grammy-nominated digital EP “Internet Leaks” which was released in August 2009 each track having had a digital single release prior to that date. Additionally, many fans had heard the obligatory polka track “Polka Face” being played live in concert during 2010 in the USA, Canada, England and the Netherlands and in Australia in March 2011.
Then on April 21st this year, there was “The Gaga Saga” which can be explored in Al’s blog, accessed from www.weirdal.com , his personal website.
That day we all heard “Perform This Way” which became the lead track for “Alpocalypse”. Thus, by the time pre-orders were being taken, fans had now heard seven out of the twelve tracks on the album. Perhaps because of this, Al opened up “Alpocalypse” early and allowed it to be streamed for free on a couple of music sites. It was a bold move for Al, who is someone well known to prefer keeping things under wraps as long as possible, but it seems to have worked well for him, and the Billboard chart for the first week’s sales saw “Alpocalypse” charting at #9, his highest ever album chart placement.
“Perform This Way”- parody of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”
I have to say I called this one. On the day I first heard the Lady Gaga song, I had more than a sneaking feeling that this was going to be the song that would launch the long awaited album we now know as Alpocalypse. To me it seemed perfect. When Al assured a friend of mine that he wasn’t even considering “Born This Way” as a target, I was really astonished, but I never seriously believed that he would not do this. It’s a pounding, monster track, and it’s funny. It is not surprising or unpredictable at all, and Al’s horrible French needles me every time, but I love the song and I love what Al has created here. Lady Gaga seems to be happy with it and all proceeds from the single and video are going to charity
The video is live action, and not included here on the DVD as there was just not enough time, but it is an astounding piece of work and features several personal friends which makes it extra special to me. I will always wonder if he based the Swiss cheese dress on a suggestion I sent him via Twitter. Guess I will never know.
“CNR”-original song in the style of The White Stripes
Forever saddled with the label “novelty act” despite a thirty year successful career, Al is one of the most woefully underrated singer songwriters in the business. This is, to my mind, the very finest rock record Al has ever made. It is a self-penned original, in the style of The White Stripes and celebrates camp US TV personality Charles Nelson Reilly (a sort of American Larry Grayson) by casting him as a superhuman cult figure in the manner of the “Chuck Norris Facts” Internet meme. The music is just fantastic and every line a real belly laugh. The strong visuals of the animated video by Jib Jab make this song truly memorable. It is my co-favorite “Weird Al” Yankovic song of all time (along with “Craigslist”, “Yoda” (live version), and “It’s All About The Pentiums”)
“TMZ”-parody of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”
The sweet dulcet tones of Taylor Swift give way to Al at his best. What a great song to sing along to! Here Al starts off bewailing media intrusion into personal privacy and as such it is kind of a message song, but in typical Al style he cannot resist giving both sides of the story, and hints that it is largely the more exhibitionist celebrities who are to blame for the voracious nature of celebrity gossip parasites and who need to take responsibility for their own actions for the common good of all who suffer from their attentions.
Bill Plympton’s accompanying animated video is very odd. It concentrates on only one line of the lyric and pursues it to death until all possible humor is squashed out of it. I was very disappointed in this video. It picks up on none of the funny, dry wit of the song, and makes it tragic and sad. I will avoid watching it again.
“Skipper Dan”-original song in the style of Weezer
Skipper Dan is a big hit with many long time fans. Skipper Dan musically shadows Weezer, yet calls to mind some of Al’s older original songs, such as “Good Old Days” and “Melanie” from the “Even Worse” album, but in those songs the comedy lay in the over the top psychological sickness of the main characters. Skipper Dan is more subtle, closer to home, and many people might consider the message very downbeat because of the searing reality of the character’s thwarted ambitions and unrealistic dreams. All the while, however, Skipper Dan does have what many would view as a great job. He is “a tour guide on The Jungle Cruise ride” at Disneyland, the place where dreams are supposed to come true, but for Dan it is a chore. He wanted to be a famous Hollywood actor, but never made it.
Here we have an incredibly poppy catchy song with some great guitar work from Jim Kimo West and luscious bass and backing vocal from Steve Jay.
It’s “typically Al” to couple a happy pop tune with dark or disturbing lyrics and this is no exception. People who understand the whole arc of his work will love this. People that have only heard some of his recent rap parodies will likely feel very differently, but bizarre non-sequiturs and startling contrasts are a main feature of what “Weird Al” is about. Personally I love it
An attractive animated video from Divya Srinivasan complements the music favorably
“Polka Face”-polka medley
It’s a polka medley! It is an exceptionally enjoyable one at that. What more is there to say? Actually I can’t be bothered to list all the songs, and it probably shows my age when I say I knew none of the songs concerned. The odd thing is how much I found myself enjoying the actual polkas segues between the elements; more so than with previous polkas, so I was delighted to see Al had included Frankie Yankovic’s “Tick-Tock Polka” right before moving into the Ke$ha song “Tik-Tok” Despite the shared common surname, they were not related, but Frankie and Al did meet and were friends. I think it’s a beautiful nod to America’s “Polka-King” and typical of Al’s sensibilities to pay such a tribute. This is a great sing-along polka, as they all are. I understand that a video is in production for this track.
“Craigslist”- original song in the style of The Doors
Right from the first notes of this pulsating animal of a song we are there…It’s 1969 and the unmistakable sound of Ray Manzarek’s keyboards, (reminiscent of a blend of “When the Music’s Over” and “Light My Fire”) prepares us for the appearance of the late great Jim Morrison and The Doors, but wait! NOT the Doors! It is Al channeling “The Lizard King” brilliantly, assisted by the unpretentious brilliance of Jim Kimo West on guitar, the rock steady beat of stalwart Jon Bermuda Schwartz on drums as well as guest keys man Ray Manzarek himself, one of the co-founders of the iconic 1960s group.
Al picks up the dark oddness and quirky humor to be found lurking in online small-ads site Craigslist, citing several crazy examples of ads to be found there. It is a topic Morrison could never have even imagined in his lifetime. Al tells us about an unequal trade, a classic car for a wheelbarrow and a hat (and he’ll throw in a stapler if you insist,) and then goes on to a bizarre contact ad. After this point, in true Doors style Al recites a freakish “open letter” like a tone poem which will make your spine tingle and the whole thing builds to a climax of epic proportions.
In my opinion this is Al possibly at his mature finest. No goofy cheesy belly laughs here as you would expect from this artist 25 years ago, but he is still as funny, and as cleverly observant as ever. Al’s lyrics are smart; the words sharp, but subtle, and the music, divinely trippy. It is as authentic in feel as it is masterly in execution, just as one would expect of one set of master musical craftsmen paying a devoted homage to another. And yes, I’d gnaw off my own arm for your Styrofoam peanuts Al 😉
A fantastically colorful Liam Lynch (Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny) live video gives this a big push that most of the other songs would benefit from, and the sight of Al in tight leather pants makes this all “WIN” really
“Party In The C.I.A”-parody of Miley Cyrus’s “Party In The USA”
People will be amazed to hear I have still never heard the original Miley Cyrus song, so I don’t have to battle jaded feelings about over exposure. I think that is a good thing (I’ve never heard any of the parodied songs actually, only “Born This Way”) I don’t think that being sick to death of a tune is a VIP pass to some special level of humor to be derived from Al’s music. Maybe the very long term fans see it differently, but to me a good tune is a good tune, no more or less, so I don’t really get why people are so addicted to the parodies when the original songs are so much better, generally.
This is a bright bouncy cotton-candy cheerleader type tune which lends itself so totally perfectly to tales of murder, corruption, espionage, torture and imperialism. This is what Al does best. This is the worm in the apple, the skull under the skin, the darkness lurking around the corner, just out of sight. This track is sheer brilliance, and sheer joy. I think if the psychotic kid from “Trigger Happy” grew up, this would be his career, and this his theme song. Al’s obsession with all that is dark and sadistic never fails to be hilariously funny, and is always alluring and intriguing.
The Ghostbot video is perfect for it, capturing that look of bygone travel posters from an optimistic age overshadowed by the coming chaos of war
“Ringtone”- original song in the style of Queen
Here is a Queen style parody which is just spot-on. This one grew on me rapidly after some initial hesitation, as I am no Queen fan, but as usual, Al owns every genre he takes on, and there was never really much chance of me hating it for long. Now it’s right up there with the others. It’s not the funniest song Al has ever written, to be fair, but it’s still fun to sing along to and will make you smile
This was launched with a video by Current.TV’s SuperNews team featuring cartoons of famous people uniting in their hatred of the Ringtone of the title.
“Another Tattoo” – parody of B.o.B. featuring Bruno Mars ”Nothin’ On You”
I love this song. It is certainly a contrast to the parodies of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. I have already heard plenty of people finding this song a reason to actually get another tattoo, which amuses me, as I read the song as being essentially critical of tattoo addiction. There’s a nice tune to it, Bruno Mars is a really talented guy. Several things he has done have really made me take notice, even though his is not a genre of music I would normally listen to. Al does a great job reproducing the song to his own specifications as usual, and although I personally would have like to see a video that was a little more “Ed Hardy” in style, Augenblick Studios do a workmanlike job and the concept of the video is quite cool.
“If That Isn’t Love”- original song in the style of Hanson
Another beautifully crafted original song, this time featuring the keyboard skills of Taylor Hanson. I’m not really familiar with the music of Hanson, but I don’t think that matters. The song is melodic, upbeat and easy to listen to. It returns to one of Al’s favorite themes, that of the half hearted lover who never puts himself anywhere but first. Al has a lot of songs that touch on this, and I personally think there is a lot of scope for humor still to be had with that for years to come, as it resonates with so many people. “If that Isn’t Love” feels like a development following on from “Confessions Part III”
I find Brian Frisk’s video a little lackluster and rather tangential to the lyrics in places, but it’s nice to have something to watch while listening.
“Whatever You Like”- parody of T.I’s “Whatever You Like”
This song parody of T.I’s song of the same name was conceived and recorded back in September 2008 whilst T.I was still heading the charts with it. This was a first for Al, and very experimental. One could say that the rushed production and, crucially, the absence of a video may have been something of a drawback; for despite initial interest, it failed to thrive as a single as it might have had a video existed. Having said that WYL is a clever and very funny song poking fun at the boastfulness and conspicuous consumption of the original by presenting a very low budget version of the cut-price inducements a poor man might make to his girlfriend.
The video was initially created to be shown on stage live, but has been subsequently extended by Cris Shapan. I find it very enjoyable, there seems to be something new to discover each time I see it. It’s not pretty to look at but it succeeds where several of these videos fall short in that it sticks to the song lyrics and isn’t afraid to be funny or silly.
“Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me”- original song in the style of Jim Steinman
Lyrically and musically this is great stuff, just as you’d expect really. I’m not a Steinman fan personally, but Al really has nailed that style here. A lot of people are saying they’d like this to be longer, but if it had turned into too much of a “list song” I know those same people would be the first to bitch about it, so I guess Al judged it just right, and really, what more is there to say about spam?
In a way this is like a follow on from Virus Alert, addressing a related subject
I have to say that the kinetic typography video by Koos Dekker is clever, but does nothing for me. I find it un-engaging and rather dull. At least it is a good way to learn the lyrics though, so it definitely has that good point.
“Alpocalypse” comes in a couple of versions; mine is “deluxe” which means there is a 10 video DVD collection adding extra value, but to be honest it is unlikely it will ever come out of the sleeve unless someone discovers an “easter egg” or other special feature on it. All the videos are now available to watch online, so I don’t even need to see it.
The album comes in a fiddly cardboard gatefold sleeve with three pockets, two for discs and one for the booklet, which is a little awkward to access. The booklet like the sleeve is full of the dark, industrial and apocalyptic imagery of brilliant art photographer Robyn von Swank. I can envisage a lot of “Weird Al” fans being rather mystified by this choice, but personally I see it as Al’s parody take on the current dark metal and industrial ”Steampunk” cults. The punch line picture has Al awkwardly seated between “Death” who is eating Chinese food, and “War” reading a newspaper. There are a few generic photos of Al in wacky poses that really sit uncomfortably with the overall concept, but that in itself is amusing, and typical of Al’s taste for awkward juxtaposition. It would be nice to see more pictures of the band in my opinion.
This is Al’s most consistently good album of his career. The highs are stratospheric, and the lows? Well there really aren’t any for me, musically. There are some videos that don’t really thrill me, but overall, the album itself is incredibly good. I just hope that people will learn to listen to Al as he is now, and realize that even though he may have made you laugh so much harder when you were twelve… YOU AREN’T TWELVE ANYMORE! Retune to the subtle brilliance of what Al is doing now, please.
And now…the rating ***************************
It is Al’s best album, after all! 😉