One Hundred and twenty four: "A Complicated Song" from Poodle Hat
When it comes to the artists he spoofs, Al is a little like Matthew McConaughey in the motion picture Dazed & Confused: he gets older, and they more or less stay the same age. Because pop music is a young person’s grift, that tends to hover around the drinking age, or into the mid-twenties if you’re not too repulsed by the elderly.
Though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from his appearance—which is vampire-like in the sense that he never seems to age, but not in the sense of having fangs he uses to drain his victim’s blood, ushering them into the nightmarish ecstasy of eternal life—Al gets older just like the rest of us, but his peculiar life’s work calls upon him to regularly take inspiration from pop nymphets still in their teens.
“A Complicated Song”, for example, takes its melody and inspiration from a ubiquitous smash from Avril Lavigne that was released when the pouty chanteuse was a mere sixteen years old. “Complicated” isn’t just an insanely popular song from a strikingly young performer; it’s also a very young song, a lyrically mopey yet sonically crisp exploration of game playing and posturing informed by a decidedly adolescent conception of melodrama.
Like a surprising number of the parodies on this album, “A Complicated Song” has a title that is not sung in the song’s chorus. The same is true of the “Hot in Herre” parody “Trash Day”, the “Piano Man” parody “Ode to a Superman” and the “Lose Yourself” spoof “Couch Potato.” “Ebay” is the only parody on the album that’s conventionally titled, one of several reasons it might have been a stronger first single than “Lose Yourself.”
“A Complicated Song” is a song about words, specifically words that sound like “complicated”, of which there are a great deal. We explore three of those words in detail over the course of the song, starting with “constipated” and rising in absurdity and darkness until we get to “decapitated” and a singer whose defiance and stubbornness somehow remains even after their head and body are very dramatically separated.
In the first verse, the singer is invited to a pizza party and is bummed to discover they’re the only guest. But rather than follow in the footsteps of the original and document adolescent angst and frustration, we make an unexpected detour into the land of gastrointestinal distress when our hapless hero takes home the leftover pizza and soon finds himself in the grips of the worst kind of constipation.
Al has a lot of fun thinking of words that sound like complicated, but also with the particular vocabulary related to “constipated”, “related” and “decapitated”, like when he rhymes “constipated” with “bowels evacuated” and then “bowels evacuated” with “colon irrigated.” These are all phrases you would never expect to hear in a pop song except in one by American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic.
The second verse, meanwhile, explicitly deals with romance, albeit in a decidedly different manner than Avril’s original. Our hero is getting ready to propose to his girlfriend when he discovers the horrifying reason they’re so wonderfully alike: they’re related, as evidenced by the family crest on his object of desire’s thigh.
This leads to a subsection of The Old Jokes devoted to the hilarity and transgression of incest and all of the wackiness, societal condemnation and serious birth defects that go along with it. “Should I go ahead and propose/And get hitched and have kids with eleven toes and and move to Alabama where that kind of thing is tolerated?” Al ponders mock-soulfully in lines that are as funny as they are cheap, and they’re pretty gosh-dang cheap and pretty gosh-dang funny.
We then segue from the comical complications of incest and inbreeding to death and dismemberment, even less popular subjects for pop songs than gastrointestinal issues and incest. In his most foolish decision to date, our misguided hero decides not to let “The Man” tell him that he can’t stand up during a roller coaster ride and ends up quite literally losing his head in a horrible, bloody accident for his trouble.
That would be the end for most people and most songs. That’s not the case here, however. With exquisite understatement, he frets, “Why'd I have to go and get myself decapitated/This really is a major inconvenience, oh man, I really hate it” before articulating just some of the drawbacks to life without a head: “Can't eat, I can't breathe, I can't snore/I can't belch or yodel anymore/Can't spit or blow my nose or even read Sports Illustrated.”
It’s not all bad, however. Ever the optimist, our singer does note that ever since the unpleasantness involving the roller coaster, “my neck is enjoying a pleasant breeze.”
That’s exactly the kind of slyly silly, deceptively smart sentiment that makes “A Complicated Song” such a wordplay-driven delight.
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