Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Album Review: Weird Al Yankovic's Alpocalypse (2011)

I’ve been a fan of Weird Al Yankovic since the Doctor Demento days, but I’ve noticed that as I’ve grown older, I’ve been becoming more disaffected with his pop music parodies, since I don’t listen to much of that type of music anymore. Alpocalypse is the first album that I believe I have no real investment in, as none of the out-and-out parodies are songs that I’ve ever even listened to all the way through, even once. I’m definitely not an ardent fan of Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, or Taylor Swift. However, I think Weird Al has improved his work immensely with his musical style parodies.
The album has five out-and-out parodies of actual songs: “Perform This Way”, a parody of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”; “TMZ”, which uses Taylor Swift’s “You Belong to Me”; “Party in the CIA”, after Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA”; “Another Tattoo”, a parody of “Nothin’ on You” by B.o.B. with Bruno Mars; and “Whatever You Like”, a parody of the same song by T. I. They’re all pretty engaging as parodies, particularly “Party in the CIA” and “TMZ”, but as I've mentioned, I don't think I've ever listened to any of those original songs all the way through.
“Polka Face” is the album’s requisite polka medley, and it is pretty good, though it does have two too many songs in it that originally featured Kesha, who I think most people realize is the Avatar of the End of Days.
The rest of the album features songs that are stylistic parodies of various bands. “CNR” is both a celebration of many somewhat-impossible feats attributed to the late Charles Nelson Reilly and a parody of the White Stripes. It’s also my personal favorite cut on the whole album. “Craigslist” is sung in the style of the Doors, and features Ray Manzarek on keyboards. “Ringtone” parodies the layered studio sound of the glam rock band Queen, as the singer bemoans the fact his ringtone is making the entire world hate him. The group Hanson is riffed on in “If That Isn’t Love”, about a guy who’s way too-good of a boyfriend, with Taylor Hanson providing back-up vocals. And “Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me” is a parody of Jim Steinman’s near-orchestral rock opus sound, as the singer pleads with people to stop forwarding emails to him. Weird Al hit all of these styles dead on. Any one of those songs could’ve been snuck into one of the “victims” albums and would’ve fit in quite nicely. Each one made me think as I was initially listening to it “oh wow, that’s a parody of Queen” or “Huh? He’s doing Jim Steinman? Way cool!”
Comedy acts in the recording business, particularly musical comedy acts, are very hard to maintain over a long period of time.  Alpocalypse shows that Weird Al Yankovic has managed to enter his fourth decade of parodying popular music, and shown he still has a level of freshness and inventiveness that warrants people buying his music. And he’s still pretty damn funny, too.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Album Review: "Torches" by Foster the People

I’m trying to find a musical analogy to describe Foster the People’s sound ... at least one that doesn’t sound lame. The band certainly isn’t, but I find it difficult to put a relatable label on this indie pop trio.  The best I can come up with is “Abba meets Gorillaz.” I know that sounds like a pop culture abomination, but it’s the best I can do at the moment.

I first became aware of the band when I saw the video for their debut single “Pumped Up Kicks” on a satellite music channel. It seemed like a sort of polished garage rock at the time, so I checked out the album. Mind you, I am not a pop music fan by any definition of the word. I prefer dinosaur metal, progressive rock and Frank Zappa. There’s something about the album Torches that appeals to me, for some reason I can’t totally grasp. Their music and vocals are layered and somewhat dense, but they still produce a sound that is light and danceable. The lyrics are interesting and rather strange at times. The first single tells the tale of a trouble kid with a gun, while “Helena Beat” seems to be simply about getting through the day.  There seem to be a lot of simple truths covered in this album, and they are related in a way that often catches you off-guard, with the real meaning of the song hitting you on the second, third or even seventh listening. That’s a welcome change from a guitar hook or a drum beat in your face and an auto-tuned voice whining a mindless but commercially-viable chorus.
Foster the People’s sound is what I would have expected had half the good college/alternative bands of the eighties and nineties stayed around long enough to hone their craft and become something truly relevant. This band has reached that plateau with their first album, and quite honestly, this is one of the first good pop albums I’ve listened to in the past thirty years.