CD review of Straight Outta Lynwood by “Weird Al” Yankovic

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Straight Outta Lynwood
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Zomba/Volcano
Released: 2006
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ALSO: Don't miss Will's interview with Weird Al!

While trading email with my friend Neil Soiseth – who regularly regales readers with the exploits of his trailer-trash neighbor – about the video for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s new single, “White and Nerdy,” Neil made the highly intriguing observation that Yankovic “has actually become a useful measure by how connected one is with contemporary pop. When you don't know the original being parodied, the further you are from some kind of pop IQ…and I'm pretty sure I'd know exactly zero of the originals.”

Unfortunately, this suggestion is all too accurate; embarrassingly, I’m forced to admit my shortcomings as a music critic and pop culture devotee by conceding that I’ve never heard “Ridin’,” the Chamillionaire song that “White and Nerdy” parodies. I’ve also never heard the songs Yankovic parodies by Usher, Taylor Hicks, or R. Kelly (“Confessions,” “Do I Make You Proud,” and “Trapped in the Closet,” respectively).

Basically, I’ve never felt so old and out of touch in my entire life. Even knowing the Green Day song Al was tackling on “Canadian Idiot” didn’t make me feel any better.

Naturally, however, my guilt led me to download or at least sample all of the original tracks, just so I could tell how well the parodies worked. Of the bunch, there’s no question that the tour de force is “White and Nerdy”; not only is it a spot-on musical reproduction of the track, the lyrics are funny…if, admittedly, hitting a bit too close to the bone on occasion. The Taylor Hicks track, well, it’s definitely the least of the parodies…but, then, it’s also the least of the original source materials. Yankovic takes Usher’s “Confessions” and “Confessions Pt. 2” and makes it a trilogy, offering such revelations as “I borrowed your Chapstick without asking” and “I killed your goldfish accidentally and just replaced it with another one.” It’s Al’s take on R. Kelly’s interminable “Trapped in the Closet,” however, that’s subtle genius, mercilessly mocking the way Kelly’s song goes on and on and on. (Al’s version, “Trapped in the Drive Thru,” is ten minutes long…and isn’t even remotely as long as Kelly’s, which has twelve – count ‘em – twelve chapters.)

Of the original tracks, it’s no contest: not only is the Brian-Wilson-inspired “Pancreas” the best of them, it’s the most spot-on stylistic parody Yankovic has ever recorded…and that includes the mock Devo of “Dare to Be Stupid,” fans. In fact, longtime Beach Boys fans will be amused on two levels: the way it perfectly emulates the sound of the band’s Smile-era material just as it takes on Wilson’s brief period of writing about the most mundane topics. The Rage Against the Machine sound-alike, “I’ll Sue Ya,” is less entertaining, and “Close But No Cigar” is just alright, but “Virus Alert” and “Weasel Stomping Day” are both classic Al. And, as ever, you can’t go wrong with his traditional polka medley, this time entitled “Polkarama!” It starts with “The Chicken Dance,” segues into “Let’s Get It Started,” and by the time it concludes with the least funky interpretation of “Gold Digger,” Al and his longtime sidemen have accordionized Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, Gorillaz, and 50 Cent. (I can’t even imagine the aghast expressions of rap fans hearing Al singing about the “candy shop.”)

The best bit about the CD, though, is that it’s been released as a DualDisc; the DVD side includes videos for all the original songs, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the album, and the entire record in 5.1 Surround Sound. Too bad they couldn’t slip the “White and Nerdy” video on there, too.

Yankovic was decidedly disconcerted by the lackluster performance of his last album, 2003’s Poodle Hat, so here’s hoping that the brief controversy he courted a few months ago (when Atlantic Records refused to let him release his James Blunt parody, “You’re Pitiful”) results in increased sales for Straight Outta Lynwood. Like almost all of Al’s albums, it’s a hit-or-miss proposition at times, but the best bits stand up to many repeat listens.

Case in point: “Pancreas” will end up on my Best Songs of 2006 list. Bet on it.

~Will Harris