John Hiatt, “Terms of My Surrender” (New West)
There’s just one really steadfast relationship on Hiatt’s new album, and it’s the one between him and the blues. Everything else, it seems, is provisional: desire and devotion, good choices and decent luck. Singing in character, Hiatt offers all manner of hangdog sweet talk and yearning entreaty, and even a couple of sworn assurances. But it’s a blues sensibility that guides these songs, in feeling if not always in form.
Hiatt, 61, has had no problem acclimating to the elder-statesman phase of his esteemed troubadour career, in which the blues always cohabited with country, folk and rock ’n’ roll. His wry, knowing voice as a singer-songwriter rang of experience even when he was younger. But these autumnal reflections point toward a familiar species of morbid resilience. As if to help place the reference, Hiatt name-checks John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf in “Baby’s Gonna Kick,” a grudging prowl featuring his own train-whistle harmonica.
“Terms of My Surrender” has a relaxed and rawboned sound, credibly rooted in live performance. Hiatt and the Combo can prioritize a deep groove without laying it on too thick, never overcrowding the lyrics in the songs.
Those lyrics can be philosophically reflective, as in “Long Time Comin’,” or brokenhearted, as in “Come Back Home.” “Old People” recalls Randy Newman’s “Short People,” but with lyrics that lean more poignant than puckish, peeling away to the bitter heart of the joke. Similarly, “Face of God” is back-porch blues built around a high-minded rhetorical question: “Tell me how much more suffering/Before you see the eyes of God?”
NATE CHINEN, New York Times
“Weird Al” Yankovic, “Mandatory Fun” (RCA)
The success of any great piece of art is determined by a few key factors. Does it accomplish what it sets out to achieve? Does it illuminate some essential aspect of the human condition? Does it change those who are exposed to it? Does it build on the art of others? Most important, does it advocate for the enduring relevance of tinfoil?
Under these guidelines, Yankovic’s new album is a stone cold masterpiece. Its goal remains the same since he changed the game with “My Bologna” and “Eat It”: parodying hit songs to create gut-busting laughter.
Is it illuminating? Certainly. You will learn, for example, that beneath Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is a way better message about a more important topic than dubiously intentioned swagger: good grammar. Yankovic turns it into “Word Crimes,” a song directed at online commenters and their unspeakable bastardizations of the English language.
He transforms Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” into “Inactive,” a celebration of couch potato culture featuring dubstep warble and the chorus, “I’m really inactive!/ I’m highly inactive!” Yankovic’s at his best on his ode to handymen, “Handy,” rapped to the tune of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” where all the bragging is about carpentry skills rather than Aussie bling. On “Foil,” Yankovic channels young New Zealand singer Lorde’s “Royals” in service of a love letter to aluminum.
Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times