‘Does Humor Belong In Music?’ was a question asked by the title of a Frank Zappa live album. He clearly thought so, and if it’s good enough for Frank, it’s good enough for me. I mention that because “Weird Al” Yankovic has just released his 13th album, Alpocalpyse, and few would probably have imagined him still being around in 2011 when he first emerged onto the scene way back in 1983. Some people even now will mutter ‘is he STILL going?’ when they see he’s released a new album.
Comedy in music is still a very difficult thing to successfully pull off, because so many people think that music should be taken very seriously, so it’s hard for acts that specialise in it to have much longevity. And that’s what makes the lasting career of “Weird Al” so impressive. The likes of Goldie Lookin’ Chain and Bloodhound Gang have both achieved some fleeting success over the last 15 years or so, but both have faded away more recently, while people like Richard Cheese are still very much niche novelty acts.
On the surface, it’s hard to see exactly why this is different for “Weird Al”, whose new album pretty much follows the pattern of all of his other albums, mixing parodies of popular songs with comedy tracks done in the style of other artists, and of course one of his polka medleys. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, seems to be his mantra, and it is certainly working for him, and Alpocalypse is a really good release that sums up why he’s still here and still popular.
The lead track is his spoof of Born This Way by Lady Gaga, called Perform This Way, and he was initially denied permission to use it on an album, until it became a huge internet hit and Gaga herself heard about it. There’s also parodies of hits Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, BoB and T.I. as well as ‘style parodies’ of people like Weezer, White Stripes, Hanson, Queen and The Doors, with Ray Manzarek himself appearing to help out on that one.
And that’s where Yankovic’s magic lies. He makes parodies that sound just as good as the originals, but are funny too, and that makes it easy to listen to them again and again. Sometimes his versions are much better than the ones they are based on, with Amish Paradise (Gangsta’s Paradise) and The Saga Begins (the plot of Phantom Menace set to American Pie) both enduring comedy music masterpieces. That’s why I love “Weird Al” and why I’ll keep buying his albums.