Straight Outta Lynwood, Al's 12th (and newest for now) album is, thankfully, a minor return to form. After getting bogged down in increasingly uninspired parodies and increasingly juvenile humor, Al reigns in some of those bad tendencies, remembers that humor doesn't have to be completely devoid of social commentary, and delivers his best album since Alapalooza.
White & Nerdy, the album opener, is a parody of Chamillionaire's Ridin'. Right away a renewed energy is apparent. Yes, the lyrical conceit (a narrator brags about the breadth and depth of his social ineptitude) is similar to that of All About the Pentiums, but it's nonetheless clever, and Al is fully committed. As a measure of the song's cultural impact, I actually saw students in the middle school where I teach wearing shirts sporting the title phrase.
Canadian Idiot, a take on Green Day's American Idiot, at first seems like one of Al's annoying blanket cultural generalization songs (see Amish Paradise, Pretty Fly for a Rabbi, and Genius In France). The song does have that aspect, as Al lists the usual Canada stereotypes (they like beer and hockey, etc.) but it also goes deeper. There's actually some lyrical evidence that Al is actually taking a sarcastic dig at xenophobic American "patriots." Witness the line: "Sure they got their national health care / cheaper meds, low crime rates, and clean air / Then again well they got Celine Dion." The call for a preemptive strike at the end of the song could be seen as a dig against the war-happy Bush administration.
Confessions Part III, Al's version of Usher's Confessions Part II mostly mocks the fact that a song called Confessions needs a sequel. It's a Crazy List song, of all of the ways the narrator has done his woman wrong, but a fairly funny one.
Things aren't so great on the album's other two parodies. Do I Creep You Out is a stalker song along the lines of the Even Worse classic Melanie, but it has one big problem: The original (American Idol Taylor Hicks' Do I Make You Proud) is not a good song to start with. When I listen I like to think the song is about Hicks himself.
That brings us to the album's worst parody and worst song, by far. Trapped In the Drive-Thru is a way overlong (10 minutes, 45 seconds) parody of R.Kelly's 12-part "hip-hopera" Trapped In the Closet. Al's version, about a couple who goes out for an ill-fated dinner, tries to make fun of the original's level of detail, but his mistake is that he makes it the details excruciatingly boring ("so we head out the front door / Open the garage door / Then I open the car doors / And we get in those car doors"), thus committing a worse sin.
The style parodies start off well with Pancreas, a mid-period Beach Boys homage in several movements. In writing an ode to the internal organ, Al shows off some in-depth research. Medical students should use the song to study. Like too many of his other style parodies, it owes a little too much to the original songs (various tunes from Pet Sounds and Smile), but for a Beach Boys fan it's thrilling nonetheless.
I'll Sue Ya is a Rage Against the Machine-type rap-rock tune. It's a Crazy List of things the narrator is going to get litigious about, including getting his finger stuck in a Coke bottle and a late pizza. There's some social commentary about a lack of self-responsibility, especially in the opening line, "I sued Taco Bell / 'Cause I hate a half a million chalupas / And I got fat", echoing a less exaggerated lawsuit against McDonalds a few years back. Then again, maybe RATM should sue Al for ripping off their guitar riffs.
Virus Alert is yet another Crazy List song, done in the style of a glam pop band called Sparks (though to my ear there's some ELO thrown in). The list is of the consequences of a nasty computer virus is sort of ho-hum, and the song is only saved by the spirited guitar.
Close But No Cigar is a dead ringer for the band Cake, more specifically their song Short Skirt/Long Jacket. It's about a guy who's looking for the perfect girl, literally. In each verse he dismisses a different girl for a different reason (one always uses "infer" when she means
"imply", one owns Joe Dirt on DVD, one has earlobes of different sizes). Overall, it's pretty funny, even with the tasteless pop culture similes ("she got me all choked up like Mama Cass").
Finally, there's Don't Download This Song, an overblown ballad making fun of celebrity charity singles (We Are the World, Do They Know It's Christmas?, etc.) and the ultimately self-serving and sanctimonious nature of them. This one is about illegal downloading, obviously, and exaggerates the severity of possible punishments. Of course it wouldn't be complete without the line "even Lars Ulrich knows its wrong."
Polkarama, the latest in a long line of hit song medleys done polka style, features: Let's Get It Started (Black Eyed Peas), Take Me Out (Franz Ferdinand), Beverly Hills (Weezer), Speed of Sound (Coldplay), Float On (Modest Mouse), Feel Good Inc. (Gorillaz), Don't Cha (Pussycat Dolls), Somebody Told Me (The Killers), Candy Shop (50 Cent), Drop It Like It's Hot (Snoop Dogg), Pon de Replay (Rihanna), and Goldigger (Kanye West).
Weasel Stomping Day is a movie musical style head-scratcher about a holiday where people murder weasels. As if that premise wasn't bad enough, the sound effects of crunching bones and high pitched squeals make the song completely tasteless. I'm guessing PETA has Al on their hit list now.
References to TV: 0
References to food: 3
Fave Song: White & Nerdy