O Lord, be merciful to Al, a fool. The slow, somber walk from jester to gallows—from guilty pleasure to Onion punchline—has spanned the 10 long years since Al Yankovic last dropped a funny record. But his impossibly coiffed head need not hang in penitence, for, improbably enough, Poodle Hat is an entertaining return to form, a multilayered effort as secretly intellectual as its demi-Dadaist title and Duchamp-cum-Photoshop cover merely imply.
In 1983 (a couple of years after Al first gambled with copyright law by replacing “Sharona” with “Bologna”), cultural pirate Malcolm McLaren double-Dutched all over the Boyoyo Boys’ South African steez sans compensation. Twenty years later, Eminem interpolates McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals” into “Without Me”—a song about appropriating African culture. On Poodle Hat‘s “Couch Potato,” Al snarkily raps a frenetic laundry list of TV jokes to Em’s “Lose Yourself” (“King of Queens jumped the shark the first minute/I can’t believe Richard Simmons ain’t in it!”) inserting two gay jokes, stealthily eviscerating Em’s nebulous homophobia (no wonder he wouldn’t let him make a video) and simultaneously meta-parodying himself—i.e., why attack Em’s intolerance since I built my own career on fat jokes and Jew jokes?
Whether his Em rhetoric is penance or synchronicity (he always liked Ghost in the Machine better anyway), Al’s canine haberdashery is stupid in all the right ways. Running with scissors, Al can’t decide how to tackle Avril’s “Complicated,” so he spouts everything that pops into that curly noggin—getting constipated, incestuously dated, and decapitated. Then he reduces 40 years of Bob Dylan’s lyrical labyrinths into two-and-a-half minutes of palindromes on . . . wait for it . . . “Bob.” Closer “Genius in France” tackles Apostrophe-era Frank Zappa simply for jollies—nailing Frank’s love of doo-wop, Varèse, Stravinsky, and poop jokes in a nine-minute freakout. Yankovic’s got a bachelor’s in architecture, so it’s good to see him dancing again.