“Weird Al” Yankovic has been crafting infectiously humorous songs for as long as I’ve been alive. Across the breadth of his three and a half decade career he has managed to take both his hits and his misses in stride, but the more amazing thing, at least to me, is that he has never lost sight of his musical vision: to both have fun and to be funny.
Inspired by fellow studious artists like Shel Silverstein, Tom Lehrer and Frank Zappa –- not to mention comedy radio great Dr. Demento –- Al himself went on to inspire a generation of nerdy youth to channel their innate creativity and offbeat humor to make their own music. It is from this peculiar tribe that much of what we think of as modern geek rock and nerdcore hip-hop was born.
Proudly hoisting the banner of Dementia music high, Jace McLain (of Nuclear Bubble Wrap) and Odd Austin, two members of the expansive internet collective known as the Funny Music Project, recently rallied their fellows to pay proper tribute to their musical idol. Released one week before Yankovic’s latest Alpocalypse – likely his own best album in recent memory – Twenty-Six and a Half is an unabashedly honest love letter to a geek music icon.
The album kicks off with a blistering performance of Bad Hair Day track “Everything You Know is Wrong” by FuMPer Steve Goodie. Boasting an amazing psycho-surf guitar solo immediately followed by a banjo-heavy breakdown, it’s not only a fantastic opener but likely the best song of the collection. Still, as tough an act as it is to follow, Kobi LaCroix’s funky take on YouTube hit “CNR” keeps the energy alive. Though it strips away practically all elements of the White Stripes inherent in the original, it’s still a uniquely satisfying experience.
Both tracks stand in stark contrast to the jazzy sensibility of “This is the Life.” Double Down provides the album’s first straight-up cover, aping the overall ragtime style of the Johnny Dangerously theme song as well as its delightfully anachronistic guitar solo. Sadly, MC Lars’s take on the MC Hammer parody “I Can’t Watch This” doesn’t fare quite so well. It’s a perfectly serviceable interpretation, but occasional vocal stumbles detract somewhat from the enjoyment. This becomes especially apparent when followed by a double-time version of “The Check’s in the Mail,” which showcases the boundless musical energy of TV’s Kyle.
Six tracks in the last thing a listener likely expects is an a cappella cut, but that’s exactly what Lager Rhythms provide on “Your Horoscope for Today,” yet another phenomenal reinterpretation of Al’s source material. Insane Ian similarly puts a Gaga-esque spin on a delightfully danceable version of oft overlooked In 3-D classic “That Boy Could Dance,” while Raymond and Scum crank up the creepy doo-wop of “One More Minute ” in a performance that’s musically sound but is held back by some shaky vocals.
MC Frontalot’s “Don’t Wear Those Shoes” re-imagines the Polka Party cut as a synthy shoe-gaze track, bypassing his own nerdcore hip-hop along the way, but the risky gambit pays off as it also stands out as another highlight on an album positively packed with great material. Dino-Mike next proceeds to scrub all elements of New Wave from “You Make Me,” instead morphing the song into a melancholy ballad. Worm Quartet, however, brings the energy back up with an electroclash version of “I’ll Be Mellow When I’m Dead” from Al’s triumphant debut. Smashy Claw, otherwise known as Odd Austin, similarly deconstructs “Close But No Cigar,” which is followed by mc chris’s “I Lost on Jeopardy.” It’s another fine selection that falls just short of the power of his previous Weird Al cover tune.
We enter the final third of the album with another energetic Steve Goodie joint. This time Steve treats us to a parody of Poodle Hat‘s “Hardware Store” entitled “Dumbledore.” It’s a bit of an odd move, but also a perfectly fitting tribute. Nuclear Bubble Wrap give us their best impression of Weird Al’s own Beatles impersonation on “Pac-Man,” and it’s quickly followed by comedy rapper Devo Spice’s humorously poignant “Weird Al Didn’t Write This Song.” While it’s neither Devo’s strongest showing nor the best the album has to offer, it still makes for a totally enjoyable diversion.
It also plays well off of follow-up “My Baby’s in Love with Jon Bermuda” by fellow FuMPer the great Luke Ski, which re-imagines zydeco jam “My Baby’s in Love with Eddie Vedder” as a tribute to Al’s longtime drummer/web master Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz. Marc with a C begins the album’s wind down with an earnest take on anti-love song “Good Enough for Now ” that, oddly enough, could easily be passed off as an original tune to listeners that came aboard post-Polka Party. This is followed by Shael Riley and the Double Ice Backfire, who’s take on “Melanie ” sounds both engagingly poppy and uniquely sinister.
Al’s own backing band closes out the album with the biographical charmer “Al’s Band.” Having the guys included on the compilation was, in itself, quite a coup for the project organizers and all the independent artists involved, but the affection they show in song for both their frontman and their fans is admirable and, dare I say, touching. As an added bonus listeners are also treated to an additional “hidden track” from Nuclear Bubble Wrap, “Bite Me” originally from Off the Deep End. While certainly not a necessary addition, it is a clever nod to those in the know.
Twenty-Six and a Half is obviously a collection for diehard fans of the classic king of nerd pop – the title itself is actually a reference to his spoken-word epic “Albuquerque” – but it is both enjoyable and accessible enough to enchant even casual listeners. The level of polish, both with regard to individual performances and to the overall production, is admirable, making the compilation stand out as a perfect example of what a tribute album should be.
Moreover, with its odd blend of popular and lesser-known cover songs, original tracks and even a dash of conceptual meta-parodies, it’s the kind of tribute that a prolific and influential artist like Yankovic truly deserves. With an amazing selection of acts running the gamut of styles and each managing to inject a bit of themselves into the project as a whole, Twenty-Six and a Half is an easy recommendation to any music geek with a healthy appreciation for good-natured humor.