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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Review of "Weird Al" Yankovic's STRAIGHT OUTTA LYNWOOD

Today is the day that "Weird Al" Yankovic's new album Straight Outta Lynwood came out (as if I haven't been talking about this album enough already on this blog over the past few weeks). I've been playing around with the new CD for several hours now – after having to go all the way to the Best Buy in Burlington because no place in Rockingham County has yet to get it in stock – and I can confidently say that the long wait was well worth it. Weird Al is one of the few musicians who has consistently upped his game since the start of his career and with Straight Outta Lynwood he has once again not only met his fans' expectations... he has surpassed them brilliantly.

I've noticed a trend over the past few albums that Weird Al has done: his humor, while still very family-friendly, has definitely gotten a lot edgier/more daring. "Wanna B Ur Lovr", one of my favorites from his last album Poodle Hat, was one of his more outrageous songs (and maybe even a little shocking to some longtime Al fans). Straight Outta Lynwood stays well within the lines of good taste – which is just one of the reasons why I believe Yankovic has enjoyed so much success over the years – but the pattern has definitely persisted in this new album. The result: Weird Al is sounding as fresh with Straight Outta Lynwood as he did when he first burst into the mainstream with In 3-D more than two decades ago. Indeed, if this keeps up I absolutely believe that "Weird Al" Yankovic is going to be entertaining us with new albums for another two decades... or more.

Straight Outta Lynwood is a DualDisc: the CD audio tracks are on one side and there is DVD content on the other. As a result the disc feels slightly heavier than a standard CD. On the positive side of things you're definitely getting more bang for your buck so far as material goes (more on that as the review progresses). The bad news is that, as a label on the back of the shrink-wrap says: "The audio side of this disc does not conform to CD specifications and therefore will not play on some CD and DVD players." And indeed when I tried to play the CD side of Straight Outta Lynwood with Windows Media Player on my computer, there were intermittent pauses on each song that I tried: almost as if the CD-ROM drive was trying to "catch up" or something. However when I tried to play it on a five-year old stand-alone boom-box there were no problems at all. Looks like if I want to listen to Straight Outta Lynwood while I work, I'm going to either have to rip the tracks to the hard-drive (which I was going to do anyway so they'll go on my MP3 player) or play it the old-fashioned way. But if you've got a fairly recent CD player, you probably won't have any trouble enjoying the CD. And the DVD stuff worked just fine when I played it on the computer with PowerDVD.

Awright, here's the stuff you'll find on Straight Outta Lynwood...

Side 1: The Audio CD

1. "White and Nerdy": This could have been my theme song had this album come out when I was in high school. A parody of "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire, "White and Nerdy”" is as strong an opening title for a Weird Al CD as was "Amish Paradise" on the Bad Hair Day album (my all-time favorite Weird Al album for a lot of personal reasons) ten years ago, which is saying quite a bit. Al must have some of the most versatile lips in the music biz, the way he's spewing out those lines a little further into the song. A great song and a hilarious video that Chamillionaire himself has said he likes a lot.

2. "Pancreas": A spot-on tribute to the musical style of Brian Wilson. What if the Beach Boys had all majored in biology? Well they would have probably made a song like "Pancreas". This one is probably going to grow on me after while, the way "Hardware Store" did after listening to it a few more times when Al released Poodle Hat. This song certainly makes me wonder (and not for the first time) about the wonderfully bizarre thought processes that must go on in the head of one Alfred Yankovic, what with associating internal organs with a tribute to Brian Wilson.

3. "Canadian Idiot": The new "Blame Canada". This one is a fine North America companion to "American Idiot" by Green Day. I actually got to listen to this a few weeks ago and it's been stuck in my head ever since. Al makes a mockery of just about every stereotype and motif of Canada out there: from hockey to Kraft Macaroni to Celine Dion. So far as parody goes, Al completely apes Green Day on this one.

4. "I'll Sue Ya": Definitely a style spoof of Rage Against The Machine (so much so that I can easily imagine Weird Al contributing to The Matrix soundtrack if he'd ever been asked to). A hilarious head-banging commentary about people who are all too eager to litigate.

5. "Polkarama!": The only song that I didn't really "get" but only because I'm unfamiliar with a lot of the lyrics (which just goes to show how out-of-touch I've wound up being with recent music, I hate to admit). On every album Weird Al does a medley of other artists' songs... as a polka. Gonna have to listen to the originals before I can really get a sense of appreciation for this one. By the way, my good friend "Weird" Ed has made the excellent suggestion that if Al ever performs "Polkarama!" in concert, everyone should stand up and start doing the "Chicken Dance" at the beginning of the song. It could be the start of a whole new "Weird Al concert thing" like doing the "Yoda chant"!

6. "Virus Alert": Don't know what kind of style is at work here but it sounds like some of Weird Al's mid-late Eighties stuff. This is Yankovic's completely over-the-top warning about opening e-mail attachments because of the threat of computer viruses. Another song that will probably grow more on me with time.

7. "Confessions Part III": As you probably might guess, a parody of "Confessions Part II" by Usher. It's absolutely hysterical to listen to Usher's original and then play this one by Weird Al.

8. "Weasel Stomping Day": The music on this short sounds like it could be used to advertise for an Oktoberfest. A light, violent song about an annual holiday involving putting on Viking helmets and mashing the daylights out of innocent weasels.

9. "Close But No Cigar": Probably the most randomly offbeat song on the CD, sorta reminds me of "Everything You Know Is Wrong" from the Bad Hair Day album. It's about a guy who is hitting on all these girls but finds something insanely miniscule about each one that turns him off.

10. "Do I Creep You Out": Just eight short months ago Taylor Hicks was a struggling musician who had "played in every honky-tonk and chicken coop there is". The man has worked hard, paid his dues, wound up winning on American Idol and for his efforts he's now received the ultimate prize: being parodied in what must be the fastest turnaround in Weird Al history... before his own album even debuts two months from now! A great spoof of Hicks' "Do I Make You Proud". Al definitely nails Hicks' signature vocal style here.

11. "Trapped In The Drive Thru": BEST SONG ON THE CD! And absolutely one of the greatest and most hilarious songs that Weird Al has ever done. This is also the longest song that Al has ever produced to the best of my knowledge ("Trapped In The Drive Thru" clocks in at very nearly 11 minutes), handily beating the lengths of "Albuquerque" and "Genius In France". This is also the first food-related song that he's done in awhile... and very well may be his culinary masterpiece. A parody of "Trapped In The Closet" by R. Kelly, this "hip-hopera" by Yankovic is the story of a husband and wife who are trying to decide what to do for dinner. No joke: I listened to this song three times in a row after buying this CD, it's so uproariously funny. Weird Al is at the top of his form on this song: not only does he imitate everything that R. Kelly did in "Trapped In The Closet" – including dividing the song into three "chapters" – but I think more than anything else on this CD, this one spotlights the full range of Yankovic's vocal talents. An instant classic.

12. "Don't Download This Song": ...which Weird Al already released last month on the Internet as a completely free MP3 download. Done in the spirit of "We Are The World" and all those other "touchy-feely" songs of the 1980s, "Don't Download This Song" is a heart-tugging plea to the listener not to violate copyright laws by swiping songs from Limewire and the like. Even if I'd already heard this song many times since Weird Al posted it on his Myspace page, I thought that this was a great way to wrap-up the album.

Side 2: The DVD Content

A lot of thought apparently went into the production of extra material for this album. That's obvious just from the beautiful menus on the DVD side of Straight Outta Lynwood.

If you have a top-of-the-line home entertainment system, you will be excited to know that the entire album is available on the DVD side in 5.1 Surround Sound (a first for Weird Al). Which we don't have anything like that here, but it's good to know that it'll be waiting for us someday when we do get a rig that nice.

Or if you don't have a 5.1 Surround Sound system, you can enjoy listening to Straight Outta Lynwood with on-screen lyrics and karaoke tracks for each song (no doubt that will be a lot of fun for parties). However it is that you listen to the music, you will also be treated to several childhood photographs of Weird Al.

The DVD side also features videos for each of the six original songs that Al performs on this album. Most are animated (the sole exception is the one for "Pancreas" by filmmaker Jim Blashfield). For these Al wound up getting some of the hottest talent in animation to produce them. The one for "Don't Download This Song" was created by Bill Plympton. "I'll Sue Ya" (pictured at right) was done by Thomas Lee. "Virus Alert" comes from David Lovelace, the creator of Retarded Animal Babies. The guys behind Robot Chicken on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim are responsible for "Weasel Stomping Day". But by far the most bizarre of the videos has to be the one for "Close But No Cigar" done by John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren & Stimpy. "Close But No Cigar" features Cigarettes the cat and more scenes depicting female buttocks than I've ever seen in a cartoon in the history of anything.

Rounding out the video content of Straight Outta Lynwood is "Al In The Studio", a nine-minute long documentary of Weird Al and his band as they work on the album, filmed by Al's wife Suzanne. It's a great look at the fun – and the hard work – that went into making Straight Outta Lynwood. And it has a really sweet closing scene that will make you go "Awwww..."

I could also talk about the 24-page full color booklet that comes with the CD, with lyrics and credits and all that, but this review is getting too long as it is. The only thing I will say about it is that it has what must be one of the most disturbing photos I've ever seen come out of the wacky world of Weird Al (and if you ever read this Al, I'm talking about that one in the very middle of the book :-).

So to wrap things up: I am being very thoroughly entertained by Straight Outta Lynwood... more than I was anticipating even. This newest album by "Weird Al" Yankovic is one of his best ever, and it's going to make a fine addition in my collection along with his other work. Do I recommend this CD? Heck yeah! So go out and buy it. And if you've already downloaded the entire album, GO OUT AND BUY IT ANYWAY YOU HOOLIGAN!


Anonymous said...

and yes, it's a really hilarous song. the video makes it even better.
and the "Virus Alert" song is a parody of the band Sparks. I donnow who they are.
watch my page, it has Al's full discography with downloadable videos! (oh, it's mostly on spanish)