Day One hundred and sixty-one: "Mission Statement" from Mandatory Fun
Writing about every single “Weird” Al Yankovic recording in chronological order and going to something like thirteen of his shows has only deepened my respect and admiration for the quiet virtuosity and versatility of Al’s band. They’re pop music’s preeminent chameleons. They can be anybody, either very directly and overtly on parodies or more abstractly, on loving, intricately constructed pastiches like the Crosby, Stills & Nash homage “Mission Statement.”
Al doesn’t get much more conceptual than on “Mission Statement”, which cross-pollinates the exquisite rhythms and textures of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s spacey, sad and ultimately magnificent and transcendent ”Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” with semi-impenetrable business jargon so dry and technical it feels like another language.
That’s fitting, since the joyous final portion of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” finds Stephen Stills trading the romantic ennui and existential angst of the suite’s early sections for something more optimistic and English for Spanish.
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is about subject matter we can all relate to: Stacy Keach stealing our movie star girlfriend Judy Collins while they worked together in the late 1960s. It happened to me. It happened to Stephen Stills. It’s either happened to you or it will happen to you. Don’t kill the messenger, brother.
There’s nothing quite like getting your heart broken to make you feel all the feels. Accordingly, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” veritably quivers with passionate intensity, with sadness, with anger and bitterness but also a desperate, poignant yearning for release from a world of suffering. Breaking up is agony but there is life on the other side, and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” closes on a note of wistful hope.
“Mission Statement” features some of the most beautiful music of Al’s career wedded to some of the driest sentiments. As its name conveys, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” consists of a series of movements that take listeners through a twisting, winding cavalcade of moods and tones and emotions, from harmony-laden, acoustic guitar-driven aggressive folk rock to trippy, moody, 3 AM-the-morning-after-a-hashish-fueled-orgy decadence and then finally to a place of fragile happiness and hope, of melancholy bliss and bittersweet joy.
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” takes us on that journey lyrically as well as musically. “Mission Statement”, in sharp contrast, is exclusively about the sonic ride. Lyrically, “Mission Statement” is deliberately impenetrable. It’s a collection of buzz words and business school terminology that has a strangely propulsive rhythm all its own. Al seemingly chose his words here more for how they sound than what they actually mean, although the whole point seems to be that these obnoxious phrases don’t really mean much of anything at all.
The phrase “It’s a paradigm shift!” has never been delivered with the infectious excitement Al brings to it here. Like the oddball protagonist of “Dog Eat Dog”, he’s deriving a kooky, counter-intuitive spiritual bliss from the ostensibly soul-killing details of office life as a businessperson. Al here sings of monetizing assets with the same kind of passion Stephen Stills sang about heartbreak and ennui and folk-rockers crooned of their hopes for a more equitable and just society.
The crooner of “Mission Statement” nurses no such idealism. “Mission Statement” is strictly business, a groovy be-in of a corporate anthem that mashes up the psychedelic sound of the 1960s with the naked money-lust of the 1980s and, who are we kidding, pretty much every decade before and after the 1960s as well.
Americans didn’t just decide to love money once Reagan was in office: that’s kind of always been our thing, as “Mission Statement” attests. We are a nation of consumers and TV addicts and furious masticators but we’re also a nation of capitalists hopelessly locked into the system whether we like it or not.
The humor in “Mission Statement” is almost exclusively conceptual rather than joke-based. Thankfully, a song doesn’t need to make you laugh to be successful comedically and a gorgeous album cut like this doesn’t need to be laugh out loud funny to be an utter, eminently re-listenable delight.
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