º SO FAKE HE’S REAL: Speaking of the magic of pop theft, “Weird Al” Yankovic — of “My Bologna” and “Hey Ricky” fame — has a new record. It’s called Straight Outta Lynwood (Zomba), and it’s completely beautiful.
I always wrote off “Weird Al” as uncool, period. This was a complete misread. Totally beside the point. I didn’t understand until I realized (recently) that “Weird Al” is a borscht-belt geezer. In order to grasp the goodness at hand, one must accept the base-level cheese. Kind of like Neil Diamond. “Weird Al” will embarrass you like your dad, left & right! You will blush for him, at him — he will make you feel his nerdiness at the core. Breathe through it. Live with it. Then you will have some fun. Straight Outta Lynwood is a proud, melodic, harmonic, smart, dumb indictment and celebration of popular music; and of Al’s strengths (rapping!) and limitations (actual creative originality!). Oh, but that’s too harsh, because in his heartfelt and thoughtful mimicry, he is more honest and inspired than most pop artists today. I mean, who’s more original: She Wants Revenge or “Weird Al”? Indeed, it must be difficult for Al to find anything to mimic at all these days, since most everything is already a dour, too-faithful rip-off of something else.
Al’s barbershop-polka medley (“Polkarama!”) nods to, among others, Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, the Pussycat Dolls, the Killers, Snoop Dogg and Kanye West. Why not? They all got it coming. Oh, yeah, there’s also a Sparks tribute (“Virus Alert”)! And the Knack would surely get a kick out of his Rage Against the Machine send-up, “I’ll Sue Ya”: “I sued Verizon, ’cause I get all depressed anytime my cell phone is roaming/I sued Colorado ’cause you know I think it looks a little bit too much like Wyoming/I sued Neiman Marcus ’cause they put up their Christmas decorations way out of season/I sued Ben Affleck . . . Aw, do I even need a reason?”
The pièce de résistance is — yes — an 11-minute spoof of R. Kelly’s pop opus “Trapped in the Closet,” called “Trapped in the Drive Thru.” Its lyrics are utterly banal, and yet you can’t stop listening. The song, like the album, sounds good. “Weird Al” ’s musical fandom and love of harmony shine through at all times, and he expertly skewers the affected syncopation of current R&B/hip-hop delivery. Maybe that’s who “Weird Al” is, at heart: a music critic of the best kind, like the goofs who created the rock & roll comic strip “Great Pop Things,” or Lester Bangs. His rock & roll criticism is rock & roll itself. I never did read those Kurt Cobain diaries (private!), but it doesn’t surprise me to learn he called Yankovic an American pop genius in them.
By the way, Kurt Cobain wrote at one time — for liner notes to Incesticide — that Nirvana was the ’90s version of the Knack, but he was selling himself short. He was also out of his mind at the time; he wrote in the same essay about how great it was “having a baby with a person who is the supreme example of dignity, ethics and honesty.”