Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ranking the "Weird Al"-bums: the 2000s (and on)

Al's albums in the last fifteen years have all been really good - almost as good as his 90s albums asa set; the only issue is that there are not enough of them. Of course, the changes in the way that music is produced and distributed have affected Al in this period significantly. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the four albums released between 2003 and 2014.

Click here for Ranking the "Weird Al"-bums: the 1980s
Click here for Ranking the "Weird Al"-bums: the 1990s

The Aughts: an awfully quiet decade for Al (2000-2009)

Poodle Hat (2003): I didn't really listen much to Poodle Hat when it was released. Maybe it was because I was on the tail end of my "no secular music" kick, or just because I was much more removed from the pop music scene in general, but this one didn't catch me. In years since, it has gained a bit more with me, and I was surprised at how well it came out in the rankings.

Parodies: "Couch Potato", "Trash Day", "A Complicated Song", "Ode to a Superhero", "eBay". Not a bad selection of the times here, with Eminem, Nelly, and Avril Lavigne represented. "eBay" might be the best, but it seems like it would have fit better on his previous album, Running With Scissors. "Superhero" was a lot like "The Saga Begins", so it just kind of seemed like he was on repeat. Still, the parodies themselves are all solid, so 5/5.
Originals: "Wanna B Ur Lovr" is entertaining and "Hardware Store has its moments, but "Bob" is the best one on the album. 3/3
Polka: "Angry White Boy Polka", the second "thematic" polka (after "The Alternative Polka" on Bad Hair Day in 1996). Entertaining, timely, and amusing. 3/3
Visual: There was no official video for this album, thanks to Eminem's refusal to let Al film one for "Couch Potato". 0/3
Standout Track(s): "eBay", "Couch Potato", and maybe "Bob". 2.5/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: Seems like it hit all the right notes: Eminem and 8 Mile (and an Oscar-winning song), early 2000s TV, Spider-Man, Backstreet Boys, eBay, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel...but it still seemed to be a little out of step. 2.5/3
Total: 16/20

Straight Outta Lynwood (2006): Any discussion of this album essentially begins and ends with "White & Nerdy", Al's biggest hit and arguably his best video (which is saying something). I think the album is a little lacking otherwise, but that is somewhat due to factors outside of his control (kind of). I feel like this really is the first album that he missed out on some of the major musical acts, and three of the parodies seemed a little weak, especially when the possible songs for parodies are considered, as"SexyBack", "Hollaback Girl", "S.O.S.", "Bad Day", and Nickelback's "Photograph" were all possibilities. But we can't really evaluate it on what wasn't there, so let's consider what was included.

Parodies: "White & Nerdy", "Do I Creep You Out", "Canadian Idiot", "Confessions Part III", "Trapped in the Drive-Thru". "Nerdy" is among his best, "Canadian Idiot" is sublime (and perfect for Grade 11 Social Studies, especially paired with Five Iron Frenzy's "O Canada"), but the other three are less-than-exemplary. "You're Pitiful" kind of counts, so let's go for 3.5/5
Originals: "Don't Download This Song" felt a couple of years too late, but it's still great, along with a couple of other entertaining entries. 2/3
Polka: "Polkarama!", which features a lot of fun songs but adds up to less than his best. 2/3
Visual: After the goose egg on Poodle Hat, Al created 9 (!) videos for Lynwood, including the video for "Nerdy". 3/3
Standout Track(s): "White & Nerdy", "Don't Download", and "You're Pitiful" do give the edge here. 3/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: The references in "White & Nerdy" alone put this over the top. "Don't Download" is a great tribute to 80s charity ballads, and "Canadian Idiot" is especially satisfying for us Canucks. Still, most of the rest of the album doesn't resonate here, so 2/3.
Total: 15.5/20 

The 2010s (2010-present)

Alpocalypse (2011): The longest wait for an Al album since the gap between Running With Scissors and Poodle Hat (1999 to 2003) produced what was in and of itself a decent album with strong parodies and great originals. But just like Straight Outta Lynwood, it seems like this album is missing something, but it's not part of the album itself; I think the answer is actually that he didn't release an album in 2009. One parody and four originals were available in 2009 on an EP entitled Internet Leaks, all of which appeared here, and over half of the parodies were of songs that were at least two years old ("You Belong With Me", "Whatever You Like", "Party in the USA"). So what that means is that three of five parodies and four of six originals could have theoretically been available two years earlier, which seems like it would have been enough for that extra album. But, as before, we cannot evaluate the album based on what was not there, so let's look at what was included.

Parodies: "Perform This Way", "TMZ", "Party in the CIA", "Another Tattoo", "Whatever You Like". Aside from the aforementioned slightly dated nature of some of the songs, the parodies themselves are all high quality, though "Whatever You Like" is a little weak. 4.5/5
Originals: This might be Al's best bunch of "style parodies", with distinctive entries parodying The Doors, The White Stripes, Weezer, Queen, and Hanson. 3/3
Polka: "Polka Face" - the title says it all. 3/3
Visual: From the cover to the 10 videos (!) that were released with the album, this one has the visual element covered. 3/3
Standout Track(s): "Perform This Way", "Party in the CIA", "Craigslist", "Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me" 3/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: TMZ, Lady Gaga, Craigslist, ring tones, spam emails, CIA operations - it hits all the right spots. 3/3
Total: 19.5/20 (which really surprised me!)

Mandatory Fun (2014): Al's final album (it completes his 32-year record deal!) keeps his streak of great albums intact and has reminded everyone that he is not anywhere near finished. The Weird Al brand is still going strong, and this album is as good as his last 8. Pretty impressive for a 22-year span.

Parodies: "Handy", "Foil", "Word Crimes", "Inactive", and "Tacky". This collection is up there for the best collection of parodies yet, and they are all instant classics. 5/5
Originals: Only "Sports Song" really stands out, although "First World Problems" has its moments. 1.5/3
Polka: "NOW That's What I Call Polka!" is an almost perfect time capsule for the previous three years, except that it's missing the Harlem Shake. 3/3
Visual: 8 videos in 8 days and a great Communist propaganda theme make for a great visual presence. 3/3
Standout Track(s): "Word Crimes", "Handy", "Tacky", "Foil". 3/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: This is arguably one of Al's least "timely" albums in that most of the references are more timeless. The savvy comes in the songs he's parodying, all of which were among the most popular tracks of the previous year. 2.5/3
Total: 18/20

Overall thoughts on Al in the 2000-2010s

I was actually quite surprised by the results of this decade, as I had expected lower ratings. Maybe I just had not paid as much attention to Al, or maybe I was subconsciously evaluating him on what he did not do rather than what he did do, but it had seemed like Al was out of touch until I really paid attention to the details. Four albums, none under 75%, an overall score of 86%, and surprising cultural relevance. Al's not done yet, by any stretch of (even his weird) imagination, and this period was almost as good as his four 90s albums.\

Total: 69/80 (86%)

Next up: Summarizing and ev-"al"-uating the results

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