Thursday, June 6, 2019

100 Albums: "Even Worse" by "Weird Al" Yankovic

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Title: Even Worse
Released: 1988
Genre: comedy


I first heard Weird Al's song Dare To Be Stupid when I was maybe seven years old and it was a revelation. For a kid like me--coming from a very conservative background but with an off-beat sense of humor--this was eye-opening. He was subversive, but in a family-friendly way; Yankovic identifies as Christian and has always kept his material PG and free of swearing. He makes fun of people, but only after getting their permission. His whole MO is to take everything you think is "cool" and shift the context just a little in order to make it silly. He's a virtuoso musician, a comic craftsman, a consummate goofball, and beloved the world over. He's supposed to be a first-rate showman (I haven't seen him in concert yet, although that is going to be remedied later this month) and, by all accounts I've heard, one of the nicest human beings you could ever interact with. I've been a fan of his for basically my entire life. As I've gotten older and musical landscapes have shifted, I don't find myself enjoying the newer material as much, but I go back a lot to this era of his work and this disc specifically--not because it's one of my favorite novelty albums, but because it's one of my favorite album albums. I enjoy the performance and craftsmanship on display here, and it doesn't even matter than what's being crafted and performed is a joke.

Even Worse is best known for Fat, a parody of the song Bad Yankovic's second go at spoofing Michael Jackson. As a rule, comedy doesn't age very well, but Fat has fared worse than most of Yankovic's material due to shifting attitudes about body-shaming and.. well... not to put too fine a point on it, shifting attitudes about Michael Jackson. Yankovic is most famous for his parodies of specific songs, even though that makes up less than half of his oeuvre. The song parodies here are good, but they're also the least interesting thing going on. Aside from Bad, all of the songs being parodied are 1980s covers of songs that were originally written in the 50s or 60s. There's I Think I'm A Clone Now, parodying Tiffany's cover of I Think We're Alone NowLasagna, parodying Los Lobos' version of La Bamba, and Alimony, which specifically satirizes Billy Idol's live cover of Mony Mony. But by far the best song parody is (This Song's Just) Six Words Long, a skewering satire of George Harrison's take on Got My Mind Set On You. Because while Harrison's hit is a bona fide classic, we all have to admit that it's a little weak in the lyrics department.

But the real meat of this album is the style parodies. Velvet Elvis is a spot-on riff on The Police. You Make Me is a fantastic Oingo Boingo spoof. Twister is not only a pitch-perfect imitation of the Beastie Boys, but it also takes the form of a product jingle (The Beastie Boys have famously never allowed their music to be used in commercials). Good Old Days is supposed to be play on James Taylor, but what really sells it is that it's a gentle ballad being sung by a psychopath. It's one of Yankovic's darkest songs. And Stuck In A Closet With Vanna White, while not specifically parodying any artist, is an early example of Yankovic's here's-a-bunch-of-funny-nonsense songs. It's also remarkable for being the only studio album after his debut to not feature a polka medley of some sort, but it doesn't suffer for the lack. And since it's still early on, there's the energy and willingness to push that you get from a hungry young artist still trying to figure things out. I still enjoy this one immensely.

Further Listening: Yankovic's catalog is huge, but if I had to pick other favorites... Dare To Be Stupid has some of his best work. The title track is a Devo style parody that is so spot-on that Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo) has gone on record saying that he wished he'd written it. It also has Yoda, a parody of The Kinks' Lola which is noteworthy because Lola is itself a comedy song, and Yoda is so much funnier. Off The Deep End is probably the first album of his that I owned, and it holds up pretty well. I also have a tremendous amount of affection for the UHF soundtrack, which has parodies of R.E.M. and Dire Straits, plus an entire polka medley of Rolling Stones songs. Finally, I'll recommend Alapalooza, which opens with a parody of Richard Harris's MacArthur Park re-written to be about Jurassic Park and closes with a polka rendition of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.

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