Gag Reflex, 35 Cents Off

"Weird Al" Yankovic just might be the world's most receptive celebrity, so long as he's not having to fend off suggestions about what new song he should skewer. I once demanded he remake the Offspring's "Come Out and Play (Keep 'em Separated)" as "Clip Out and Save (Keep 'em Perforated)." All about coupons, get it? Dumb and brilliant at once, don'tcha think? Huh? (Well, er, OK, um, maybe not.)

That very same Offspring went on to put a strategic move on Yankovic's core demographic, tiny kids in need of no other rock reverence, or even reference, to get the joke. Running With Scissors, the accordionist's 10th LP, is where he stakes that claim back again with the Dexter Holland­approved snicker "Pretty Fly (For a Rabbi)." But it's a cheap trick when set against Weird Al's most emotive parody to date.

Sure, "The Saga Begins" seemed stale a long, long time ago; a month after the monthlong box-office lineups, a summary of The Phantom Menace was an expired idea. Yet this revision of Don McLean's "American Pie" translates emotional affect that Yankovic could only pretend to reach with his 1984 Police reflex test, "King of Suede." Now, when Al beams how soon he's gonna be a Jedi, what a feeling indeed, like a metaphysical bridge between Loudon Wainwright III and his swishy son.

"Weird Al" looked funnier with Coolio's hair.
photo: Johnny Buzzerio
"Weird Al" looked funnier with Coolio's hair.

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'Weird Al' Yankovic
Running With Scissors
Volcano

Chris Rock
Bigger & Blacker
Dreamworks

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The rest of the parodies on Running With Scissors manage enough retribution to succeed: "Jerry Springer" supplies Barenaked Ladies' "One Week" with a foundation comparable to how "I Lost on Jeopardy" made Greg Kihn redundant. A redecoration of Cherry Poppin' Daddies' moment as "Grapefruit Diet" reaffirms how Al can still sound obese, no matter how form-fitting that clearance-rack zoot suit feels. And pouncing on Puff Daddy's nauseous metal escapade for "It's All About the Pentiums" is inspired, revealing rap aptitude more palatable than Fred Durst's.

By comparison, Yankovic's originals remain a distraction, sometimes too benign to come off as comedic. (Astrology concept + Reel Big Fish horn section = Fast Forward . . .and hurry!) With "Germs," an homage to the last Nine Inch Nails album, he's like a dweeb who really, really wants to be pals with the trenchcoat crowd. (Then spends 11:22 gnawing at their ears with the album closer, "Albuquerque.")

Meanwhile, wayward Hootie wannabes Blessid Union of Souls have hit big with "Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me)," its high-pitched nasal new wave insistence nothing more than a Yankovic knockoff run through a Third Eye Blind blender. Running With Scissorscounters with "My Baby's in Love With Eddie Vedder," a wistful zydeco grinder that's nowhere near as funny as "Last Kiss." Seems that Weird Al won't give in till you start liking him for him.

Chris Rock's own "Smells Like Nirvana"­ like renaissance was bolstered by his 1997 HBO special Bring the Pain's CD souvenir, Roll With the New, finessed with Prince Paul­ produced bits to make amends for CB4. Bigger & Blacker is also much bluer, a veritable concept album about strip club etiquette and Ol' Dirty Bastard's arrest record. Both themes factor into the ingenious "No Sex," parodying "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," in spite of the original fading from the radar faster than you can say "Super Bowl Shuffle."

Wanting to blow up again without going pop, Rock reprises his adequate formula with less crossover conscience. Last time, he saluted Dickie Goodman by splicing hit r&b clichés into an O.J. press conference; this time, a Monica Lewinsky interview draws all its racy rhetoric from Lil' Kim's Hard Core. The more strident stand-up couldn't match with targets as tender as Babyface (even if Roll With the New's "Another Face Song" owed more to Rick Dees than Redd Foxx); rather, Biz Markie drooling a racially readjusted "Brown Sugar" (directed at white strippers, natch) is more Bigger & Blacker's speed.

Considering nobody else has the clout to rib at Roger (of Zapp) Troutman's legacy (Phil Hartman, victim of a similar tragic end, is merely granted a liner note dedication), Rock casts a shadow on himself. Certainly, during the precision performance stretches, you can hear him sweat, worrying about what comes next, after all the incendiary shucking has been done. Rock's album makes the case that he doesn't deserve to be a savior for the network minority apocalypse; that'd mean becoming the next Seinfeld. But if he ends up heading in that direction, I've got a riff for him. It's all about coupons, see . . .

 
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