In Defense of Weird Al

"Weird Al" Yankovic — of "My Bologna" and "Hey Ricky" fame — has a new record. It's called Straight Outta Lynwood, 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. To grasp the goodness at hand, one must accept the base-level cheese. Kinda like Neil Diamond.

Weird Al will embarrass you the way your dad would. You will blush for him — he will make you feel his nerdiness at the core. Breathe through it. Live with it. Then you'll have some fun. Straight Outta Lynwood is a proud, melodic, harmonic, smart, dumb indictment and celebration of popular music and of Al's strengths, such as rapping (!), and limitations, such as 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 these days, since most everything is already a too-faithful rip-off of something else.

But he finds what's worthy and has his fun: A Dirty South sendup of Chamillionaire's "Ridin' Dirty" opens the album — titled, of course, "White & Nerdy." This version is sonically more satisfying than the original and leads improbably into a Beach Boys-inspired ditty titled "Pancreas." The Green Day-inspired "Canadian Idiot" that follows is absolutely delicious.

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 have it coming. And then there's the 11-minute spoof of R. Kelly's pop opus "Trapped in the Closet," titled "Trapped in the Drive-Thru." Its lyrics are utterly banal, and yet you can't stop listening. 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. I never did read those Kurt Cobain diaries (private!), but it doesn't surprise me to learn he called Yankovic an American pop genius.

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Kate Sullivan
Contact: Kate Sullivan