I’m not a professional music critic – and don’t pretend to be. However, I’ve gotta tell you that “Straight Outta Lynwood” [SOL] is one of the best albums that “Weird Al” Yankovic has produced to date. Yes, I’m biased – having been a fan of the band ever since the seventh grade. His originals finally, in many ways, outshine his parodies. SOL nails the melodies and harmonies, as expected.
SOL is a bargain at $15: “DualDisc includes PCM Stereo, 5.1 Surround and instrumental mixes of the entire album (with on-screen lyrics option), plus a 9-minute behind-the-scenes documentary and 6 brand new music videos.” I bet you wish your favorite artists did this, too. If there’s anything that’s going to keep physical media alive, it’s jam-packing titles with every bonus imaginable. A few weeks ago, Al unleashed the half-sactioned “You’re Pitiful” online. It isn’t included on the album, though the original artist gave Al permission to do so:
Yankovic recorded the song to be included on his Straight Outta Lynwood album after, according to Yankovic, having been given the James Blunt’s blessing to parody the song. However, following its recording, the artist’s record company, Atlantic Records, allegedly told Yankovic that he could not include the song.
Even after having publicly stated that the band doesn’t make much money from digital purchases (through iTunes or otherwise), Yankovic still treats his fans fairly – he knows that we’ll all buy whatever he creates. In fact, I’ve been known to buy his albums for friends – just because I think that as a serious and smart musician, “Weird Al” is underrated. His musical genius is fully exercised in a few SOL tracks – which won’t leave you SOL.
- White and Nerdy: Computer geeks should love these lyrics twice as much as they did “It’s All About the Pentiums” – with references to Wikipedia and MySpace included. Even if you don’t like “rap,” you’re going to love these lyrics. And honestly, which one of us isn’t white and nerdy?! I think I have a new personal theme song. Great way to start the album. Even Ponzi LOL’ed a few times when she first heard it. Five stars.
- Pancreas: Out of all the songs on SOL, this one is probably my favorite. It begins a capella, flowing and weaving in a classic “Beach Boys” sound. I’m not sure I’d consider this a complete style parody, though I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear something similar on a TMBG album – which is probably why I love this track so much. If you don’t find yourself strangely attracted to the final refrains, there’s something seriously wrong with you. “Insulin, Glucagon, Coming from the islets of Langerhans.” I can’t get it out of my head. Er, pancreas – if you will. Five stars.
- Canadian Idiot: For the second parody on SOL, we have a parody of Green Day’s “American Idiot.” Much like in “Lasagna” and “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi,” Al is finding gold in stereotypes. It’s a fun song, though I must admit that I find myself enjoying the R&B parodies more than punk/rock music these days. Still, I’m not anxious to skip to the next track – if only because the original song is catchy to begin with. If you don’t know anything about Canadian culture, you probably won’t be impressed by this tune (but I bet your Canadian friends will be). Four stars.
- I’ll Sue Ya: Speaking to the trend of crazy lawsuits appearing in the headlines every other week, Al gives us a “Kid Rock” style emulation – littered with popular brand names and outlandish experiences with them. I’ve never been attracted to “angsty” music, but this beat is to my liking (far more than an earlier “Young, Dumb, and Ugly”). If there’s a low point on the album, I’d say this is it – unless you happen to be a fan of the genre. Despite my indifference, I don’t consider it to be a “skip track.” I wholly expect these lyrics to show up in a future email joke thread – and please don’t take that as a suggestion. Three stars.
- Polkarama!: I look forward to the polkas on every album, always believing they’re not long enough. This accordion-heavy montage does not disappoint. While I couldn’t necessarily name every polkafied artist strewn throughout, I was definitely familiar with every lifted lyric. I think his combination and range of styles (R&B, Rock, Alternative) speaks to Yankovic’s continued range expansion and broad appeal. If you’re not into a wide range of pop music, you might not appreciate Polkarama! half as much. It’s not my favorite polka (as I appreciate his classics more than the newer ones). However, it’ll certainly satiate my polkanerve until the next one bounces in. Four stars.
- Virus Alert: Another Yankovic classic has been born – very upbeat, very addictive, original, and extremely replayable. If I played this tune back-to-back with “Hardware Store,” it’d make for a smart mix. Al’s falsetto feels natural and really fits inside this composition – with the lyrics being equally as amazing as the music itself. I find myself hitting the rewind button for this one – and not just because it’s about technology. I’m blown away by the song’s entire structure, particularly during “If you even get infected. turn off your computer, and make sure it powers down..” Can’t help but sing along. Too much fun. Five stars.
- Confessions Part III: You might remember Confessions part I & II, so this is. what you’d never expect from a third one. Usher probably should have stopped with one, but I’m glad that Al made it a soul-bearing hat trick. The original song was ripe for satire – strong enough to support a parody. We’ve all been in love, and we’ve all done wacky (read: inexplicable) things in those relationships. Of course, I don’t know if any of you like to dress up like Shirley Temple and beat yourselves with a hockey stick – but you should enjoy the open confessional nonetheless. Four stars.
- Weasel Stomping Day: Oh. My. God. This is Dr. Seuss in Bizzaro World! Close your eyes and try to imagine this one, folks. Not sure why Al references mayonnaise for the second time on the same album, but. that’s not the point. What sound does a weasel make when it’s stomped? There’s no safer way of finding out, I can assure you. The song is festive, but leaves the listener with a gigantic question: just exactly when is Weasel Stomping Day? I’d personally like to nominate July 27th if it hasn’t already been suggested. Let’s all celebrate! Five stars.
- Close But No Cigar: Another Yankovic original – and likely his best non-parody relationship-centric song to date. “And I loved her even more than Marlon Brando loved soufflâ€š.” “And I was crazy like Manson about her…” “She got me all choked up like Mama Cass.” – Dennis Miller would be proud. The music, in and of itself, has an addictive pop quality to it. Then again, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I really like it, but I don’t think I love it. Four stars.
- Do I Creep You Out: I make it a point to watch the first few episodes of every American Idol season. Taylor Hicks kinda looks like Jeff Barr to me, though. I enjoy a good ballad every once in a while, so this serves my ears well. It’s over in less than three minutes, which is fine by me. My guess is that this track served as a substitute for the Blunt parody, though. I wanna lip sync this at my wedding reception – if only for shock value. Four stars.
- Trapped in the Drive-Thru: You can always count on one extended track on a Weird Al album. This time, it was a pointed parody of a pointless R. Kelly rambling. In many ways, Yankovic did a better job with it! I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of these lyrics were based on actual events in Al’s life. I can tell you that Ponzi and I had the “Olive Garden” argument recently. Art imitates life. Although, Ponzi sold my bunny slippers on eBay last week. Five stars.
- Don’t Download This Song: Yes, it’s what you think. Imagine if “We Are The World” was dedicated to the plight of the millionaire musician. The anthem is long overdue. You might have seen the video when it was uploaded to the Internet a few weeks ago. Aptly, you couldn’t easily download the encoded video. Listen to the very end – he screams “Ya cheap bastard!” Heh. The physical media was quite affordable, actually – filled to the edge with value. Four stars.
- You’re Pitiful (Unreleased): He starts singing early, but that flub wasn’t edited out before the song was released and distributed to fans (in an unofficial capacity, as mentioned earlier). It’s too bad Atlantic had a stick up their ass about not including this in SOL, because it would have fit in well. Since I don’t listen to much popular music these days, I wasn’t tired of the “You’re Beautiful” sound by the time I heard this track. Xbox geeks will love the Halo 2 reference, but I still crack up every time I hear “farty pants.” Five stars.
Ponzi listens to artists like Chamillionaire, R. Kelly, and Usher all the time – so hip hop music regularly flows through our halls at home. It’s because of this that I find SOL so interesting and fun. Had my tastes not been influenced by my fiance’s choice of music, I don’t know how I’d feel about the album.
The included videos are somewhat fun; “Weasel Stomping Day” (Robot Chicken) and “Close But No Cigar” (Kricfalusi!) really hit it out of the park. I’m disappointed that “White and Nerdy” didn’t make the DualDisc, though – I was hoping to watch a higher quality version of it. If the visual extras don’t win you over, then perhaps the instrumental tracks and 5.1 surround sound recordings will. SOL is an absolute bargain at $15.
Perhaps other artists should start copying Al – filling their physical albums to the brim with value. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?