A Miss With a Few Hits.
It's pretty clear that Weird Al has already shifted gears in terms of how he releases music. He's talked about releasing more EPs and singles rather than albums now that he's put out his final release on a record contract. Both 2013's Alpocalypse and his new Mandatory Fun prove that it's pretty apparent that's what he would rather do, and it makes sense in a digital age.
On Weird Al's older albums, his original songs were usually the stand-outs for me. The parodies were always good, but they weren't the only thing holding the record up. With Mandatory Fun, it feels like that is very much the case; the album being structured around the parody singles with filler thrown in just for the sake of making a full-length album. Tracks like "Lame Claim To Fame" and "My Own Eyes" feel like the same song recycled, and the lyrics are even more ridiculous and nonsensical than usual for Al — they're just not as funny or intelligent as some of his other originals. There's also the songs "Mission Statement" and "Jackson Park Express", which are too long, too grating, and just too boring to be funny, and will most likely only annoy younger listeners (I'm old enough to enjoy the styles being parodied and even I found them to be incessantly dull). "Mission Statement", in particular, is one of the worst Weird Al songs in recent memory, and even though the concept of reading a lifeless employee handbook to a classic rock tune is kinda funny, the execution just doesn't pay off.
Most of the parodies are actually really entertaining, but they almost all seem to be cut short before reaching their full potential — another obvious grab for the A.D.D. YouTube generation. Weird Al's Imagine Dragons parody, "Inactive", is hilarious, but only clocks in at about half the runtime of the original song, which is a bummer. "Foil" is a let-down because it changes direction out of nowhere into trademark Weird Al territory, but then ends just as abruptly. Because of that, it feels less like something Al wanted to write, and more like a quick attempt to parody an insanely popular song while it's still relevant. The Iggy Azalea parody "Handy" is funny, and I actually really enjoy it, but I don't think everyone is going to find it as humorous as die-hard Weird Al fans might. And after standout parodies like "White & Nerdy" and "Whatever You Like", Al could have easily written another successful rap parody about something other than a carpenter.
Still, there are some standout tracks. "NOW That's What I Call Polka" is standard polka-fare, but enjoyable nonetheless. And it's nice to have a throwback to older Al with "Sports Song", which perfectly lampoons spastic sports nuts. "First World Problems" is going to be the sleeper hit, despite it actually being really good, and I hope it gets its own video. It's the perfect satirizing hipster anthem, amplified by the fact that he's parodying The Pixies.
Without a doubt though, the standouts are "Word Crimes" and "Tacky", parodies of two the most popular pop songs in the past few years (Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and Pharrell's "Happy", respectively). I wish "Tacky" was longer, but the parody is relevant and relatable, which is what all great Weird Al songs are, and "Word Crimes" is just brilliantly catchy. I've definitely listened to it more times than anything else on this record. It's exactly what we should expect from Weird Al, and it's the proper way to appeal to a new generation of fans without pandering too much or alienating anyone.
I'm incredibly disappointed that I've spent most of my time with Mandatory Fun skipping through to find the good tracks, since that's not usually the case with Weird Al albums. This could have easily been cut down to a five-song EP and it would have been much better. And, honestly, that is probably a better route for Al to go after Mandatory Fun and Alpocalypse. Hopefully it'll result in fresher parodies and less stale originals.