Brook Benton, dealing with a man with a long cigar in “Hit Record,” in 1962: “Well, he made me sign the paper for twenty years.” And Benton wasn’t kidding: Rick Nelson’s contract with Decca, starting in 1963, was originally for twenty years, though MCA, successor to Decca, dropped him after thirteen.
I mention this because “Weird Al” Yankovic signed a record contract in 1982 which only just now, 32 years later, has been completed. This does not mean he’s through with recording, but Mandatory Fun may be the last full-length Al album ever: the man’s at his best with topical material, and it’s hard to be topical with two or three years between album releases. So the coming scarcity of Yankovic long-players would be reason enough to snap it up, I think; fortunately, there’s enough good stuff here to justify your ten-buck outlay (or your eighteen-buck outlay for the vinyl version, which comes out next month).
Yankovic’s promotional campaign was unusual: no single, but eight videos to be released over the first week of release, each of which was put together with a Web partner because Sony wasn’t about to fork over a ton of money for someone who hadn’t put out an album in three years and who had had only one Top Ten single ever (“White & Nerdy,” 2006, which made #9). Everybody loved “Word Crimes,” a reworking of Robin Thicke’s utterly awful “Blurred Lines,” partly because of the brilliant kinetic-typography video, partly because everyone loves to play the More Grammatical Than Thou card, but mostly, I think, because the rewrite was so much better than the original. And “Foil,” a parody of Lorde’s “Royals” with aluminum at its heart, was downright weird, which never hurts.
Deserving of more note: “Mission Statement,” which is what Crosby, Stills and Nash, with or without Young, would sound like if they were present-day buzzword-driven corporate consultants, and “First World Problems,” a Pixies sendup with Al doing his best (and not at all bad) Black Francis and Amanda Palmer in the role of Kim Deal. The polka medley, as always, is delightful, with wholly unexpected transitions and no bleep in “Thrift Shop.” And you won’t miss much by ripping just the first 11 songs: the 12th, “Jackson Park Express,” is a pretty acoustical tune, à la early-Seventies Cat Stevens, over which is laid a genuinely creepy boy-meets-girl story that takes nine minutes to go nowhere.
Note: Amazon.com put this out as a download, just for this weekend, for $5.99. If you find Mandatory Fun compelling and don’t object to the sheer intangibility of downloads, you’ll find it more so at four dollars off.