Sunday, March 07, 2010

257. "Weird Al" Yankovic: Internet Leaks EP (2009)

One of the modern day raps against "Weird Al" has been a lack of timeliness. Given the increased speed of media, the songs and topics Al parodies can become passe by the time he gets around to putting out an album. Seemingly acknowledging this, Al has spend the last year releasing advance singles from his next album. In turn, those songs have been packaged together as a digital EP called Internet Leaks.

Though this solution may allow the songs to be more topical, it doesn't necessarily make them better (as we'll see) and it certainly doesn't increase excitement for an album. Who wants to buy a CD when they've already paid for half of the songs?

Whatever You Like is a parody of T.I.'s 2008 hit...Whatever You Like. If I'm not mistaken this marks the first time Al has used the same title and lyrical concept in a parody. In T.I.'s song he promises his girl all sorts of great things (a private jet, a 5 million dollar home, a Bentley, etc.). Al does the same thing in his version, the difference being that he's ballin' on a budget. So he promises things like ramen noodles, a trip to the laundromat, a shopping spree at Wal-Mart, bus tokens, a dinner at White Castle, and a pair of thrift store jeans.

The joke behind the song is the same as nearly all of Al's rap parodies: A boastful rap from someone who really has nothing to boast about. And he's done it better elsewhere. More disturbing is the seeming contempt of those living along the poverty line. It's not especially funny coming from someone who is likely a millionaire, nor is it easy to ignore the racial implications (Al's parodying a song by a black artist, and making fun of the economically disadvantaged, a group into which many black Americans fall). In that light, the mention of government cheese is especially damning. Not cool.

Style Parodies
CNR borrows the blues metal stomp of The White Stripes to tell ridiculous tall tales about the actor Charles Nelson Reilly. Reilly died in 2007, and this song could be seen as a tribute if it wasn't so mean-spiritied in places (Al claims, among other things, that he had a third nipple, had sex with a manatee, and liked to hit people with a shovel). Who knows, maybe Reilly would have loved the song, but I think a more straight-forward bio would have been just as interesting. Afterall, this guy had a successful career on Broadway, played Hoodoo the wizard in an awful, awful Sid and Marty Kroft show called Lidsville, was a game show and Tonight Show regular, and did a voice for SpongeBob SquarePants.

Craigslist takes a Doors groove and puts it with a Crazy List of things you can get / do on the titular Internet site. The list is fairly funny, including setting up a strange rendez-vous, giving away a garbage can full of styrofoam peanuts (but not the can itself), or writing an open letter to a rude barista, and the vocal parody of Jim Morrisson is right on.

Ringtone is a Queen soundalike about a guy who bought a bad ringtone that everyone hates. The lyrics are not especially funny, but they're somewhat salvaged by the music itself.

That leaves Skipper Dan as the only true selling point of the EP. It's a power pop rocker about a promising Julliard-trained actor who can't get work and is reduced to telling bad puns on the the jungle cruise ride at Disneyland (I've been on this ride and the jokes are pretty funny, but imagine telling them over and over all day...). The song details his hopes and dreams (a film with Quentin Tarentino, a photo shoot with Annie Liboweitz, awards at Sundance) and how they've given way to small potato monotony. The song owes an obvious debt to Fountains Of Wayne, not just musically, but lyically as well. Like a FoW tune, the song finds the pathos in the main character's story without belittling him. This is a big accomplishment for Al, who almost always goes for the easy joke. If Al wanted a more mature direction for his career, Skipper Dan wouldn't be a bad place to start.

If Al's true goal was to be more timely with his parodies, this is a curious selection of songs, ill-suited to that purpose. Only Whatever You Like was topical. In the other cases, sure ringtones and Craigslist are hot topics, why use the musical styles of artists who were popular 40 years ago? And The White Stripes are still sort of popular, but why make the song about a semi-obscure actor whose popularity peaked in the '70s? As a simple collection of songs it fares better, but only slightly.

References to food: 1
References to TV: 1
Grade: C-
Fave Song: Skipper Dan


Anonymous said...

I don't know whether Weird Al is a millionaire or not. I'm sure he's well-off enough now, but he hasn't always been. His parents were blue-collar working class-- remember, he really did grow up in Lynwood. And Al did his share of scraping by and eating macaroni and cheese out of a box before "Eat It" came along and changed everything for him. I really can't imagine that Al's intent was to ridicule people who clip coupons. I thought the romance in the song was kind of heartwarming, even if it is low-rent. Unlike some of Al's twisted love songs, those two people seem to actually enjoy each other's company. ~OE

Paul Allen said...

I don't think Al was intentionally being derisive or offensive toward people who have to live on a budget, but I do think he went for the easy joke and didn't consider how it might be interpreted socially or racially.

We tend to dismiss or apologize for racial, cultural, or social insensitivity so the conversation ends, when we should really be going further into it to discover where stereotypes and privilege are at work.

I know it's just supposed to be a funny song, but that aspect kills the humor for me. However, I do like the interpretation of the song as a we-don't-need-lots-of- money-to-be-together romantic sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

this is my fav album it has good songs and craigslist was played by ray manzarek. what's the problem of choosing themes that are old, the music is awesome. but you re probably just an idiot and your favourite artists must be rihana and eminem...