The Post-it on the refrigerator in Tenacious D’’s Hollywood apartment probably reads something like this:
1. Polish the B.o.G. (Bong of Destiny)
2. Play a round of lampshade golf w/Sasquatch
3. Cash Satan’s rent check
4. Lay roses on Val Kilmer’s grave
5. Rise again as the world’s most awesome band
That’s an ambitious to-do list for anybody, let alone a potty-mouthed singer from a town called Kickapoo and a pot-bellied guitarist who wears socks with sandals. But it’s #5 that Jack “Jables” Black and Kyle “Kage” Gass set their bloodshot sights on with Rize of the Fenix, a loose chronicling of the “mock rock” duo’s quest to reclaim their rightful rock throne one “tasty riff,” “monster mama jam,” and, yes, “cock push-up” at a time.
Rize of the Fenix adds a post-Hollywood chapter to the hallowed book of Tenacious D lore. “When The Pick of Destiny [the band’s 2006 film and soundtrack] was released, it was a bomb/And all the critics said that the D was done,” opens Black on the record’s title track, which bounces between acoustic strumming and “jeans-creaming” metal while contemplating the band’s uncertain future in the silliest possible terms: “If Tenacious D has died, what will we do?/And what will we do about all the fans who have the D tattoo?” The added irony lies in the fact that the original premise behind Tenacious D was two slackers with comical delusions of rock star grandeur, and now there probably are people with the D tattoo—maybe even “Tenac” on one ass cheek and “ious D” on the other.
On “The Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Kage”, Black tells of the fictitious rift that grew between the D as he ascended to the Hollywood A-list, while Gass remained that bald guy who used to be in a band with Jack Black. This playful blurring of the real Black and Gass with their Tenacious D personas adds a dimension of Entertainment Tonight juiciness to the record. We know Kage hasn’t really been “left on the streets of his dreams” to go completely insane and that Black isn’t the type who would “screen KG’s calls and snort coke off the ass of a whore,” but it sure is funny to think about. And what fan of the D hasn’t seen Black promoting a new film on Letterman or Leno and wondered, “Where the hell is Kage these days?”
Longtime D-votees who have followed the D since their humble Bio-Dome and HBO beginnings needn’t worry about the band losing their vulgar edge to middle age. Tenacious D’s humor still speaks to the part of us that never left our parents’ basements, evolved beyond dick and fart jokes, or acquired more refined tastes than video golf, Dio, and a “Bob Marley extra crispy” (hint: you smoke it). So, yeah, we giggle when JB impersonates a Spanish guitar instructor named Felix and molests Kyle (“Classical Teacher”); snicker at the phallus-shaped phoenix featured on the record’s over-the-top metal cover art; and light up inside when Black performs linguistic gymnastics with his favorite four-letter word on nearly every track.
The key, though, is that the joke is always in the music, never the music itself. As a vocalist, Black is equally adept at his signature theatrical delivery (“Rize of the Fenix”), scatting (“Low Hangin’ Fruit”), and straight rock singing (“Deth Starr”). Gass’s acoustic guitar still provides the perfect framework for the D’s jerky compositions, and his tearful flute interlude on “The Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Kage” momentarily makes you forget the hilarity of Black’s tale. It also helps that longtime friend Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) returns as the D’s session drummer. Grohl’s thunder and fills on tracks like “Throw Down” and “Deth Starr” are the “rocket sauce” that powers the D to “blow out asses” and “impregnate ears.” And, no, the band didn’t ask me to write that one.
But have Jables and Kage really risen again on fiery wings? Yeah, but not without a few tracks going down in flames. Black revisits Nacho Libre on the Spanish-tinged “SeÃ±orita”, a tale of machismo and chivalry that makes you wish he had drawn inspiration from Shallow Hal or even his bit role in Mars Attacks! instead. “They Fucked Our Asses”, with its our-rock-against-the-world attitude, sounds like the next legendary installment in the D’s saga before cutting out a mere minute in. Did someone pull a hammy doing a power slide or something? It’s a shame. Kyle even remembered to hit record.
Unexpected odes like “Roadie” and “39” more than compensate for any missteps, though. “Check-a, check-a, one, two, three/I plug it in/I make it sound as good as can be,” sings Black on “Roadie”, a long overdue tribute to the shadowy men in black who make “the rock go.” Black channels Springsteen, or is it Neil Diamond, on acoustic strummer “39”, coarsely crooning about that time in life when a 39-year-old makes more sense than “19-year-old chickadees”: “She’s 39, but she still looks young/Not very young but a lot of fun.” This track goes on to make the D’s romantic classic “Fuck Her Gently” seem like “I Just Called To Say I Love You” by comparison.
Rize of the Fenix proves that Tenacious D still reign supreme. But maybe only burrito or chicken supreme and not quite Cutlass Supreme this time out.
Essential Tracks: “Rize of the Fenix”, “The Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Kage”, and “Throw Down”
Feature artwork by Virgina McCarthy & Cap Blackard.