It really surprises me that Tenacious D is still a “thing.” For one, their last greatest achievement was with their 2001 self-titled album, which deliberately created egotistical rock power ballads and acoustic ditties, mixed among some hysterical back-crunching dialogue that was both brilliantly composed and written and oddly offensive. Yet since that record, they have dabbled in mediocrity, watered down riffs, and borderline self parody. The Pick of Destiny was just an example of poorly implemented ideas and straightforward bad music. Tenacious D really should have gone the root of Spinal Tap- short lived, focused, and never overstays its welcome. Tenacious D do take a quite a long break between that last foray into comedy and this latest album, “Rise of the Fenix.”
Tenacious D really do one thing well, and that is mocking the music industry comedic tropes while delivering quality songwriting hooks. Overall, they BARELY do this well, at least in the past few years, but they definitely keep the music at the forefront this time around. The Pick of Destiny failed miserably as an album/movie/thing because Jack Black and Kyle Gass placed comedy over the actual music. “Rise of the Fenix” succeeds because the musical is the centerpiece holding the comedy together, as opposed to it being the other way around. They scatter some typical Tenacious D comedy skits amongst solid songwriting, as seen with the skitClassical Teacher which holds up to older bits from their oldest material and tv show. It’s just odd- but it works. Another straight comedy song, To Be the Best is a perfect representation of those awful power “YOU CAN DO IT!” synth songs that drugged the 80′s and forever tarnished it as a credible musical era.
Musically, the title track Rise of the Fenix shines as a self-aware ode to their history and to their legacy as a group. Roadie sounds like Tribute, their 2001 centerpiece song about the devil, and stands as one of the best here with a beautiful little string arrangement and acoustic. The Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Cage is the best song they have written in years, because it’s not only tenderly funny and well written musically, but it’s SMART. But some fall flat. Deth Star is lightning fast and tinged with Glass’ guitar melodies, but is coated with Black’s lyrics which barely classify as funny, let alone appealing.
Vocally, Black sounds as good as ever, for whatever that’s worth (Let’s face it, acquired taste is being tame). Lyrically, the album isn’t a great step forward. This IS Tenacious D, so expect massive egos, cock jokes, and weird placements of the word “chode.”
When Tenacious D swing, they often miss terribly and knock out a twelve year old to the left of the base plate. Yet when they hit, and they DO hit, they hit the ball for outside the park and prove their status at the top of the comedy music arch. Rise of the Fenix has brief hints of pure pop/rock perfection, sat uncomfortably between driveling songs that never quite stick (Senorita and Throw Down to name just two). I find Tenacious D improved dramatically here from their previous efforts, but the D is really only successful in sporadic bursts, and even over 40 minutes their just tiresome as hell.