This week, IA entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from Weird Al Yankovic, Joan as Police Woman, Seether and Tim Hulsman.

New Album by an Eternally Young Artist

Weird Al Yankovic: Mandatory Fun

Based on a small sample size, you either like Weird Al Yankovic or you find him tolerable but mildly annoying.

This can be tested by playing two or more of his songs in a row.

Most people will tolerate one, but when the second kicks in you’ll probably get the reaction I received from my lovely wife:

"We’re not listening to a whole album of this, are we?"

After getting his start in 1976 via the Doctor Demento radio show, Weird Al has built up an impressive resume including producer, actor, screenwriter and director. Early hits included Another One Rides The Bus and My Bologna (to the tune of My Sharona), which marked the first of Weird Al’s many songs about food. 

Since corrective eye surgery led to a change in his signature look prior to the 1999 album Running with Scissors, Weird Al albums have taken a similar structure.

They generally start out with a couple of parodies of recent hits (Pretty Fly for a Rabbi/Handy), throw in a polka medley of other recent hits (Polka Power/Now That’s What I Call Polka), add a couple of original tracks of varying quality (Germs/My Own Eyes) and finish off with a satirical epic (Albuquerque/Jackson Park Express).

Mandatory Fun is the final album in Weird Al’s record deal, and he has said that it’s likely to be his last traditional album.

From now on, he plans to concentrate on releasing singles as soon as he comes up with them, which seems like a sensible idea.

As a contrast (and perhaps as a farewell FU to his record company) Weird Al has made total of eight videos for this album — all released within a fortnight.

The appeal of this album is also its main problem – it’s a time capsule for 2014 and in two years you’re about as likely to listen to it as Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Em.

Best tracks: My Own Eyes, Foil, Word Crimes (superior in every way to the Robin Thicke original)

Sample lyric: ‘I’ve seen things that would drive a normal man insane.’ (My Own Eyes)

Verdict: 7/10 — the first comedy album to reach number one on Billboard since 1963’s My Son, The Nut by Allen Sherman.

New Album by a Newish Artist

Joan as Police Woman: The Classic

Born Joan Wasser, Joan as Police Woman started her musical life as a classically trained violinist and pianist, before turning away from classical music and embracing the punk ethos.

She joined The Dambuilders in 1992 and released three albums with the band, growing in experience and confidence as she found her own voice.

Eventually, Joan’s horizons eclipsed those of the band and they disbanded in 1997. 

After gaining a measure of infamy when then-boyfriend Jeff Buckley drowned in 1997, Joan released the album Debt & Departure with a band called Those Bastard Souls. She also formed a band with the remaining members of Buckley’s band called Black Beetle, although the album they recorded was never released.

After a stint on violin with Antony and the Johnsons, Joan decided to strike out on her own. Referencing the somewhat obscure Angie Dickinson series Police Woman, Joan formed her own band with accomplished musicians including drummer Ben Perowsky and bassist Rainy Orteca.

In 2005, the band released their self-titled debut EP, followed shortly by album Real Life, which went on to win the Independent Music Award for best pop/rock album in 2008.

The Classic is Joan as Police Woman’s fourth album and continues the jazz-influenced soul journey that she began back on Real Life.

Possessed of a powerful voice that evokes Aretha Franklin and Amy Winehouse, Joan is somewhat of a rarity in the current music landscape — a strong independent female artist with her own voice.  

You are unlikely to see a Joan as Police Woman clip on Video Hits (does that show exist anymore?) but The Classic is more than worth a listen. Evocative lyrics, powerful vocals and a passion for music set Joan apart from her contemporaries.

Best tracks: Holy City, Witness, Shame

Sample lyric: ‘Only I have no command over tomorrow, so I may as well be grand and shoot my arrow.’ (Holy City)

Verdict: 8/10 — a great album from an amazing talent

Album I Expect to Suck

Seether: Isolate and Medicate

You might remember Seether from such hits as Broken (with Amy Lee from Evanescence) and … well, that’s about it really.

They had a minor hit in 2005 with Remedy, but managed to parlay their limited talent into a career that has lasted far longer than anyone could have predicted.

Founded in 1999 in Pretoria, South Africa, Seether originally performed under the catchy name ‘Saron Gas’ before someone told them that it was a stupid name they had misspelt anyway.

The band released debut album Disclaimer in 2002, but weren’t happy with the level of record company interference, so re-recorded the album and released it as Disclaimer 2 in 2004.

Falling squarely into the Nu-Metal genre, it was always going to take some effort for Seether to break free of the ‘softcock metal’ label often applied by hardcore metalheads.

They made a decent effort at diversity with 2007’s Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces, but slipped back into Papa Roach territory with 2011’s Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray.

With new release Isolate and Medicate, Seether continue to hang on to nineties Grunge like a lifeline, sounding a lot like early Pearl Jam crossed with circa-2005 Nickelback.

If this sounds like your sort of thing, then you and I have different tastes in music, good reader…

There are a couple of decent tracks on this album, but unfortunately they’re outweighed by the significantly larger number of boring nu-metal riff-fests.

Best tracks: Words as Weapons, Nobody Praying for Me

Sample lyric: ‘I’m a star that is just a black hole now.’ (Nobody Praying for Me)

Verdict: 5/10 — grew on me a bit after a couple of listens but still not great.

Ch-check It Out…

Tim Hulsman: Dead Man’s Garden

Like any superhero worth their salt, Australian singer/songwriter Tim Hulsman has an interesting origin story.

Born in Tasmania in 1973, Tim was one of six children in a devout Jehovah’s Witness family. With both parents heavily involved in the church, Tim and his siblings were raised in a strict environment that frowned on individualism, with any spare time spent attending bible study and spreading the good word door to door.

One thing that was completely banned in the house was popular music, with hymns and religious tunes the only acceptable options. Somewhat inevitably, Tim eventually discovered the joy of this ‘banned’ music and decided, at age 14, that he wanted to pursue a career as a musician.

The next four years of his life were a story of conflict, as his parents fought to bring him back into the JW flock and he struggled to find his musical identity.

Things came to a head when Tim turned 18 and was excommunicated from the church and, as a result, was immediately cut off from his pious family and friends.

Undeterred, Tim threw himself into music, playing rock n’ roll and living like an artist, gradually building his profile and reputation.

In 2003, Tim released debut album Angelfish, followed in 2007 with The Singing Tree. While these albums were moderately successful, Tim became interested in the storytelling potential of the acoustic folk/blues scene.

New album Dead Man’s Garden suggests that this was a good choice, filled as it is with well written, introspective songs. With many tracks based around Tim’s distinctive slide guitar, this is a fine album for listening to late at night with a glass of red wine in hand.

Best tracks: Dead Man’s Garden, Sweet Surrender (featuring Nina Grant)  

Sample lyric: ‘I can feel that dead man watching.’ (Dead Man’s Garden)

Verdict: 7/10 — fans of Australian folk and blues, there’s a new player in town…

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