Day One hundred and fifty-six: "Foil" from Mandatory Fun
Al likes to take his time and really stretch out on the epic, oddball final songs on his albums but for the most part he’s a master of brevity gifted at fitting an awful lot of ideas, jokes, music and craziness into tiny little ditties as short on length as they are long on inspiration.
Al fits a whole lot of lunatic brilliance into “Foil”, his conceptually bonkers parody of Lorde’s breakthrough anthem “Royals.” The song doesn’t even make it to the two and a half minute mark but it nevertheless changes tone and subject matter so dramatically, unexpectedly and hilariously that it’s essentially two songs united by the titular consumer product.
If “Foil” is one of Al’s best late-period parodies, that’s partially because he’s parodying a perfect pop song, a masterpiece of icy electronic minimalism that finds the New Zealand teenager forcefully rejecting the materialistic excess and debauched celebration of hedonistic splendor found in Hip Hop and R&B while at the same time acknowledging its glossy, seductive allure.
“Royals” is about something substantive in a way the pop smashes Al spoofs generally are not but in its own weird way it’s about something big and important as well, though that certainly is not apparent from its first verse, which finds Al one again venturing back into the grocery store to find inspiration in consumer products and advertising testimonials and more specifically, aluminum foil, the wonder wrap that works wonders!
Nobody sounds more excited or comfortable singing college words than Al so it is a delight to hear him really tear into scientific jargon when he coolly insists, “I never seem to finish all my food/I always get a doggie bag from the waiter/So I just keep what's still un-chewed/And I take it home, save it for later/But then I deal with fungal rot, bacterial formation/Microbes, enzymes, mold and oxidation.”
I love the casualness with which “Foil” joins its thrillingly banal first verse and lyrical conceit to its exhilaratingly vast and deep second and closing verse. After playing musical pitch-man for the wonders of aluminum Al follows an audible sip of Earl Gray tea with a wonderfully off-handed, “Oh, by the way, I've cracked the code.”
Al is deriving inspiration from the turn in “Royals” where Lorde sings “My friends and I we’ve cracked the code” but instead of following Lorde’s leads with exquisitely wrought underdog, underclass defiance, Al instead goes from 0 to 60 espousing crackpot conspiracy theories that individually and collectively paint a dark, ominous and hilarious vision of a world spiraling out of control, with sinister forces pulling the strings behind the curtain with a brainwashed, sheep-like populace none the wiser.
It’s a conspiracy that spreads over the globe but it’s a testament to the song’s breathless ambition that it does not stop there. It doesn’t go to the moon, of course, since the Alex Jones type warning us of the secret dangers all around us insists, of course, that the government faked the whole moon landing and though he does not come right out and say it, we can freely assume it was with the assistance of Stanley Kubrick.
The song’s outer space component comes not from the fake moon landing but rather space aliens who, you guessed it, will use their sinister alien powers to probe your anus or your mind, or possibly even both at the same time. Aliens, they say, are natural multi-taskers.
Thankfully, our paranoia-crazed crooner has somme constructive advice for his fellow crazy people: “Wear a hat that's foil lined/In case an alien's inclined/To probe your butt or read your mind.”
It’s not just aliens and moon fakers that our frothing-at-the-mouth conspiracy theorist is worried about. He’s pretty much worried about everything. As he warns hypnotically, “I've figured out these shadow organizations/And the Illuminati know/That they're finally primed for world domination.” Gaining in momentum and scope, he grows positively cinematic when he warns deliriously of “Black helicopters coming 'cross the border, puppet masters for the New World Order.”
Musically, “Foil”, like its inspiration, is all about cool, calm control. Al is as artfully measured as Lorde in his delivery. His tone never changes even when he goes from pitching the mundane, milquetoast virtues of aluminum wrap for food preservation and storing to warning of the infinite dangers posed by the Illumnati, the New World Order and anal probe-hungry space aliens.
There is not a wasted word, phrase or musical moment here: It’s one hundred and forty there seconds of sonic and lyrical perfection. Everything here, from the sound effect of Al sipping tea to the hypnotically sinister groove adds to the demented grand gestalt, to the glorious juxtaposition of the soothingly mundane and deliciously insane.
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