Day one hundred and forty-eight: "Polka Face" from Alpocalypse
Alpocalypse’s requisite medley of recent hits, “Polka Face”, is another weirdly personal song for me because it commemorates, in polka form, perhaps the last time that I was professionally obligated to be passionately invested in new pop music.
I did not realize it at the time, but my time as a music reviewer was drawing lurchingly to a close in 2011. I always felt ambivalently about giving new albums grades because, c’mon man, you can’t write about music. You’ve got to feel the groove, man, deep down in your soul! Writing about music would be like dancing about architecture: the original title of the poorly received Sean Connery/Gillian Anderson/Jon Stewart motion picture Playing by Heart.
Instead of writing timely reviews to let readers know which platters from top pop combos are worth their hard-earned scratch, I segued into writing rambling, selectively read columns about the entirety of country music from an outsider perspective and the first thirty-eight entries in the Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations of recent top chart-toppers.
It was in this capacity that Al and my life’s work once again overlapped. The polka medley on Al’s next album even tipped the cap to the venerable, super-popular and international compilations with its title, “NOW That’s What I Call Polka!” Listening to “Polka Face” was like bathing in a soothing musical nostalgia bath as all of my Now That’s What I Call Music! favorites came flying back to me in mutated form, as the super-catchy base components of one of Al’s signature polka medleys.
After the traditional polka kick-off (in this case Will Glahé’s "Liechensteiner Polka") we begin again with Lady Gaga, whose “Poker Face” provides a punishingly punny title and a beginning. Listening to Al and the boys’ gleeful romp through it so soon after “Perform This Way” highlights a seeming contradiction in Gaga’s persona: her image is provocative and borderline avant-garde in its contempt for propriety and bourgeoisie tradition but she expresses herself through super-catchy, exceedingly commercial dance-pop songs.
Then again, I suppose you could argue that Lady Gaga can get away with being such an art-pop exhibitionist weirdo precisely because she delivers the goods when it comes to crafting songs irresistible to pop radio and the masses.
“Polka Face” is all killer no filler, the catchiest parts of the catchiest, biggest hits in succinct polka form. We’re talking “Baby”, the irresistible slab of bubblegum pop that introduced an insufferable Canadian man-child named Justin Bieber to the world, with a co-sign/guest rap from Ludacris, Britney Spears’ “Womanizer” and the melancholy pop-country glory of Lady Antebellum’s late-night loneliness anthem “Need You Now.”
One of the great joys of Al’s polka medleys lies in hearing Al put on, and then quickly discard so many musical personas wildly different, if not antithetical, to his own. Al the teetotaler gets busy with the comical sound effects on Jamie Foxx and T-Pain’s homage to drunken hook-ups, “Blame It.” On “I Kissed a Girl” Al delivers a gender-bending re-imagining of Katy Perry’s calculating breakout hit, singing from the perspective of a girl who kisses a girl despite previously being a girl who only kissed guys.
The sober Al sings the stoned chorus of “Day and Night”, the squirmy intimate stoner anthem from Kid Cudi, who would become sober himself and precede Al as the second band-leader/sidekick of Comedy Bang Bang. Circles within circles, man. Is the Illuminati involved? Probably.
When I was a kid, pop music felt like it was made in heaven specifically for me and kids like me, while simultaneously providing a voyeuristic glimpse into the hormone-crazed world of adults. Then, as a half-assed juvenile delinquent, pop music became my life, my identity, my escape, my joy. Then at a certain point it became my job. Then it wasn’t my job anymore but something I chose to write about in idiosyncratic ways reflecting who I am and how I see the world. Al has been there at every step like a pop music version of The Giving Tree.
These days pop music is what I hear when I’m writing in Lyfts when they’re not playing that awful Steve Harvey or when I’m in stores. That’s not a bad way to experience recent pop hits but it’s not the best way. The best way to experience new hit music is, of course, through the “Weird Al” Yankovic polka medley. That’s why we need a new album and a new medley pronto! I haven’t been following new pop music, and I need it translated to me through a vessel I can understand and appreciate, like Al’s delirious spins through the plastic perfection of some of pop’s greatest, or at least catchiest, recent hits.
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