Day One Hundred and Two: "Syndicated Incorporated" from Bad Hair Day
Al has a great line about how for every critic his Golden Age occurred when they were twelve years old. I was twelve years old the only year in 1988, when Al put out Even Worse and while that’s not my favorite Al album I perhaps not so coincidentally view the 1980s as Al’s Golden Age.
As Al’s wisecrack alludes, this conception of the 1980s as a renaissance in musical tomfoolery is at least partially rooted in my own childhood and relationship with Al’s music. When Bad Hair Day came out in 1996 I was a twenty year old college student a year away from the beginning of my career as a pop culture writer at The A.V Club, the job that would bring me to Al’s attention. I was in a bit of a weird middle period in my relationship Al, stuck somewhere between being a kid who worshipped him and an adult with the surreal honor of knowing and working with and for him.
But I think my preference for Al’s early and later work over his 90s output has something to do with the music of the time as well. Bad Hair Day closes on a perversely Soul Asylum-centric note. Of the songs final four songs, one is a parody of a lesser Soul Asylum single, the “Misery” parody “Syndicated Incorporated” and another is the “Black Gold” pastiche “The Night Santa Went Crazy.”
For a very brief stretch, Al seems to have derived as much inspiration from an alternative rock also-ran like Soul Asylum as he did from Michael Jackson, whose legacy will always be associated with Al’s. What’s even stranger about Al’s mid-career obsession with the song craft of Dave Pirner is that he didn’t parody “Runaway Train”, a monster, ubiquitous single whose groaning earnestness and good intentions would seemingly make it perfect for one of Al’s patented irreverent “goofs.”
Instead Al chose to parody “Misery” from Soul Asylum’s less successful 1995 album Let Your Dim Light Shine, which reached twenty on the pop charts but has not endured the way “Runaway Train” has.
Al made things a little too easy on himself with “Syndicated Incorporated.” He returned yet again to television for inspiration, one of his most fruitful and also exhausted subjects. The two go hand in hand. It’s precisely because Al is so uniquely good at writing funny songs about television shows, and television in general that he has returned to it so often.
Syndication is such a big, broad subject that pretty much anything that’s not first-run, sports or news qualifies so Al is able to draw upon decade upon decade upon decade of easily recognizable, easily rhymable television staples like Three’s Company, All in Family, Dynasty and Laverne & Shirley
About halfway through “Syndicated Incorporated” Al throws a musical curveball in the form of a solo for the accordion, an instrument All tends to reserve for polka medleys post-“Weird Al” Yankovic. The squeezebox sounds surprisingly at home in the middle of a self-consciously mopey alternative rock semi-anthem but it also feels unmistakably like Al doesn’t seem overly enthusiastic about either the half-forgotten song he’s spoofing or subject matter that rings all too familiar.
There are some great lines in “Syndicated Incorporated”, like when Al sings “I’m a boob tube devotee” or rhymes “losing my sanity” with “addicted to Regis & Kathy Lee” but Al had returned to the well of trash television and ancient reruns far too often for “Syndicated Incorporated” not to feel, in the words of the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster, “stock.”
“Syndicated Incorporated” is a song about compulsive rerun consumption that itself feels like a rerun. Thankfully Al’s next dance with Dave and the gang on “The Night Santa Went Crazy” is a whole lot more memorable for reasons beyond its hilariously excessive violence. Oh, and in what is completely a coincidence, surprisingly enough, we will get to “The Night Santa Went Crazy” on December 25th.
It’s a Christmas miracle!
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