Review Summary: Tenacious D returns triumphant after years of silence, with an album that fits harmoniously into their past catalog.
What I have always loved about the D is that the quality of the music has never suffered to make way for its comedic aspect. Tenacious D has truly always been something special. Capturing metal’s power and channeling it into a campy, goofy sense of humor, magnified by a legendary production, and mixed in with classic rock sensibility, made their music a treat to enjoy. Their trademark “acoustic metal” sound is as fresh and powerful as always. There’s a certain godlike quality about the way the acoustic guitar blends into the electric and bass guitars.
Rize of the Fenix is even better than their debut, being leaner and meaner, and more musically-focused. There is much less emphasis on skits and more on songs. Releasing a movie seemed to be a necessary catharsis for Jack and Kyle, so they could finally realize what the D stood for: the music. Don’t get me wrong... I love a good skit. They were always hilarious, Drive-Thru being the most notable, but after hearing them once or twice, they began to detract from the album’s re-listenability.
Rize of the Fenix, the opener, is the most easily accessible track, and wisely chosen as the single. It begins with a self-described “Eye of the Tiger” intro, then breaks into a sprint, with an almost country-rock guitar. It then drops off into Jack wondering what will happen if the D is really finished. Will the fans have to “laser off their D tattoos?” There is some passage beyond the fourth wall, as Jack and Kyle hope that Rize of the Fenix is the "one hit" they need to start anew.
Low Hangin’ Fruit is my personal favorite track on the album, despite it objectively being the weakest. Jack and Kyle are out for some easy women. You’ve heard this riff a thousand times before, so don’t come looking to be blown away by the guitar work. But JB’s scat solo is worth the price of admission.
The first of only two skits on the album, Classical Teacher involves Jack telling Kage that because they have returned, they’ve got to make bands like Arcade Fire “lick their boot or *** it,” so Jack hires a Spanish classical guitar instructor to teach Kage a few tricks.
Senorita has a wonderfully Latin sound, with trumpet and flamenco guitar featured as a cultural seasoning. It starts off with a mariachi-style trumpet, and Jack goes on to tell the story of Conchita, a victim of abuse by the hand of Larry, a man Jack picks a fight with in a bar.
Deth Starr is a track that has been around for a while, one of the songs that was first confirmed for the new album. The heaviest of the bunch, with crunchy, interesting melodies. It reminds me of City Hall, the way the story becomes increasingly ridiculous as the song goes on.
Roadie is an exhibition of Tenacious D’s whimsical cheesy epic sound (“I’m standing at the threshold of your dreams!”), for fans of tracks like Tribute and Wonderboy. It is a celebration of the oft-overlooked band roadie and what they do in the shadows.
The second skit, Flutes and Trombones, is an early morning encounter between the two in the recording studio, each wondering why the other is there with their wind instrument of choice, subsequently getting into a fight.
Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Kage is a fictionalized retelling of how Jack Black took a break from Tenacious D to pursue his acting career. It features Kyle on his flute from the previous skit.
Throwdown is a much-needed protest against religion’s prevalence in our modern lives, which are almost entirely run by the science of the last century. Jack is telling us we have got “to use our ***in’ heads now,” rather than hoping a supernatural being, or other people, will do the dirty work for us.
Rock is Dead is yet another of the shorter tracks, though it is justified due to the song’s blistering pace. The sentiment of the song’s title is enhanced by the musical style, a truly rock n’ roll song, implying that we really don’t hear songs like this anymore-- rock has run its course.
They ***ed Our Asses is a disappointing song that ends just when it gets good, with a rolling, atmospheric flourish oddly remniscent of Opeth’s Watershed, that leaves you expecting a chorus or some kind of elevation, but it just... ends. I am assuming the song is about censorship.
If you’ve seen the album promo trailer, you’ve heard “To be the Best.” Its gaudy keyboard chords create an 80s sound well fitted for the montage it was featured in. Yet another track I wished was longer.
This brings us to the finale. I say this with no exaggeration, 39 is one of their best songs, easily the strongest track on Fenix. It is a ballad about JB’s particular female fixation, a “not too bad, good enough” 39 year old prostitute. His best Bruce Springsteen impression is on display here, to great effect. His pronunciation of the word “anus” alone almost caused me to drown in my morning orange juice.
In summary, if you’re a diehard fan, or are new to the band, Rize of the Fenix will be a solid addition to your collection. It’s a welcome wave of new material that would fit right in if it were shuffled with their self-titled. The Pick of Destiny, except for a few original ideas, was essentially a rehash of the same ideas from the debut. That is thankfully not the case here. Jack still has the pipes and Kyle still has the sauce. In this way, Rize of the Fenix is a perfectly fitting album title.
But you might need to keep it out of sight unless you don’t mind awkward questions about your CD with a giant “penix” on the cover.
If Tenacious D released an album in 2004, it would sound exactly like this.
Each song is unique in its execution and sound, easy to listen to in one sitting.
6 years and only 40 minutes of material?
The guitar work can be predictable at times.
Some songs seem incomplete.
Dick on the cover.