Thursday, May 17, 2012

CD REVIEW: Tenacious D - “Rize of the Fenix” (2012)

JB and Rage Kage Return with their Third Album…and it DEFINITELY isn’t on Par with their Earlier Material

My unabashed love of the first Tenacious D album is absolutely embarrassing. Believe you me, I’m not being an ironic dink when I say that I think that their self-titled 2001 debut is not only one of the best all-around albums of the 2000s, but one of my most listened-to CDs ever. Literally everybody in my circle of friends had a copy, and I can’t even recount the number of times we sung along to “Karate” and “Double Team” on rides to and from school. It’s one of my favorite albums ever, and there’s no way anybody can convince me otherwise.

Now, their second album, however, is a completely different story. 2006’s “The Pick of Destiny” (both the album and the movie itself), I thought, were pretty underwhelming, with the band getting way too overproduced and grandiose for my liking. Sure, there were some decent songs on “The Pick,” but it couldn’t hold a candle to their first album - which is why I have been anticipating the band’s third album with way more enthusiasm than anybody probably should for a band fronted by a supporting actor from “Saving Silverman.”

“Rize of the Fenix,” which was released earlier this week, seems like a happy return to form for the band. I mean, jeez, just look at the cover, featuring what appears to be a fire-winged dong screaming into the night (an image, by the way, that’s blurred out on the Amazon download page.) But, once you actually, you know, listen to the CD, what will your reaction be?

Well, I recently gave the D’s third album a thorough listen, analyzing each and every track on the CD. And to make it brief: yeah, it doesn’t look like I’ll be singing any of the tracks from this one on my morning commutes.

Track 001
“Rize of the Fenix”

Right off the bat, the band wastes no time in referencing the commercial and critical failure of their last album…a theme, as we will soon see, that is a pervasive one throughout this disc. The song, which is mostly acoustic, sort of reminded me of Monster Magnet’s “Space Lord.” If you’re familiar with that one, I’m not really sure how you could hear the opening track and not think of it here. Admittedly, it’s a pretty groovy track, with a palpable Judas Priest/Iron Maiden influence, with even a little bit of The Who thrown in for good measure. The only real problem with the track is that it’s just too damn long; at about five and a half minutes in length, you’ll be ready to tune out by the three minute mark.

Track 002
“Low Hangin’ Fruit”

Well, here’s another mostly acoustic track, dedicated to…well, something Tenacious D seems to sing an awful lot about, I suppose. The lyrics here are indelibly stupid and forced, with a particularly dumb breakdown at the midpoint of the track where Jack just starts spouting some nonsensical words before concluding the “solo” with a farting noise. As dumb as it is, I have to admit; it does get a little catchy after two or three listens, so be forewarned if you’re trying to steer clear of earworms this evening.

Track 003
“Classical Teacher”

This track is your traditional Tenacious D skit, with JB forcing Kyle to take classical guitar lessons from a Spaniard named Felix (who is obviously Jack in disguise) because he’s not satisfied that the band is “almost as good as Arcade Fire.” Honestly, this one isn’t really a classic on par with “Inward Singing” or “Drive-Thru,” although there are some guffaws to be had towards the end of the track, when JB attempts to inspire Kage by sodomizing him.

Track 004

For those of you that think of the D as a mere “joke” band, this technically-impressive track - featuring a multi-key classical guitar piece arrangement - may very well be the band’s most skillfully orchestrated tune yet. Unfortunately, the song itself is rather bland, with Jack telling a narrative about getting into a fight over a Spanish girl. It has some decent moments, with JB hitting some extraordinarily high notes and even breaking out into Espanol at one point, but despite its technical merits, this remains one of the album’s least memorable offerings.

Track 005
“Deth Starr”

If you loved “City Hall” from the first Tenacious D album, you’ll probably really dig this pseudo sci-fi rock epic, about the band escaping environmental pollution and overpopulation by hopping aboard a galaxy-faring spaceship - where, of course, copious amounts of kink transpire. Despite being a little forced at some junctures, I definitely think it’s a fun track, and probably the most straight-up ass kicking song on the entire album. I mean, come on: how could anybody hate a song about having sex in “virtual planes” and fighting squid aliens?

Track 006

A super-overproduced, acoustic anti-ballad, with Jack Black turning in his best Bob Segar impersonation here. It’s a pretty slow track, but it picks up towards the end, with Jack firing off “dick” like nobody else can. Oddly enough, this song sort of reminded me of the Bush tune “Adrenaline”…although to be far, this fairly mediocre D song is still worlds better than anything Gavin Rossdale has ever had his hands in.

Track 007
“Flutes and Trombones”

Another skit, featuring Jack going on one of his world famous profanity sprees. A pretty funny track, with Jack and Kage ripping on each other while flute and trombone sounds flutter in the background. For guaranteed laughs, just fast forward to 00:43, and keep hitting repeat.

Track 008
“Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Kage”

On this track, JB shows off his Bruce Springsteen impersonation skills, and I’ll be several flavors of damned if he doesn’t sound a lot like “The Boss.” This super-duper-mega-overproduced track serves as a quasi autobiographical tale about the band’s ups and downs over the years; unfortunately, the acoustic, slower tempo really makes this thing chug along at a snail’s pace, and the styling parodies thrown in (would you believe a flute solo on a D song?) just make the track overlong and a chore to sit through. A track you’re bound to be skipping, no doubt.

Track 009
“Throw Down”

Jack shows off more of his “Bruce voice” here, and all in all, this might just be the most bizarre Tenacious D song ever recorded. Believe it or not, this track tackles a REAL issue (religion versus secularism), with what seems to be a mild bent towards the former as opposed to the latter. If you ever wanted to hear Jack Black sing lyrics about Jesus rocking out and Noah’s ark, well…you’ve got it. Now, as to why you WOULD want that, I suppose, is something I really can’t imagine.

Track 010
“Rock is Dead”

A super fast song with Jack mourning the demise of rock and roll by making random references to “Lord of the Rings,” Axl Rose and Elvis Presley. Too short to really prove memorable, just like…

Track 011
“They Fucked Our Asses”

…this one, which is barely a minute long. A mostly acoustic track with some definite NWOBHM influence towards the end, the song is decent, but yet again, just too damn brief to make an impact. Which is EXACTLY the same thing that can be said about…

Track 012
“To Be The Best”

…the penultimate track on the album, which also barely clocks in at over a minute. It’s a shame too, because an extended version of the tune - a parody of all those 1980s “training montage” classics like “You're The Best Around” and “The Touch” - could have really  proved a killer full-length track. For what it is, it’s pretty good, but it could have ended up being something so much more (which is almost EXACTLY what you can say about this album as a whole, now that I think about it.)

Track 013

Well, if nothing else, you can praise Tenacious D for saving their absolute best song for last on this album. Not only is “39” far and away the best tune on the CD, it’s probably the best post-debut album thing the band has done - and even if you don’t pick up the full album, it’s certainly well worth the $0.99 download at the iTunes store. Jack Black yet again trots out the Springsteen-Segar voice for this, a downright hysterical track about a MILF with an almost Jimmy Buffet-ish vibe to it. Even if you don’t think it’s the most technical track on the album, you really can’t argue that it’s the CD’s funniest, with Jack Black singing about “didariddly doo”-ing himself on the phone while talking to his almost 40-year old honey. It’s a five and a half minute long song that just blasts by in what seems like seconds - essentially, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” only with the narrator fiddling with his bunghole while texting.

As a huge fan of the D, I have to say this was a pretty disappointing album as a whole. Yes, there were several good songs, like the title track and “Deth Starr,” and one absolutely outstanding one with the album’s concluding track, but most of the stuff in between felt more like “Pick of Destiny” warm-overs than anything fresh and progressive. I think the biggest problem with the album was that the band tried too hard to show their technical chops as “real musicians” on too many of the tracks, which is something you really don’t flock to a new D recording to hear, admittedly. With three tracks on the album clocking in at barely over a minute (and two tracks consisting of skits), you really only end up with eight full-fledged songs on the CD, and of those, about half are pretty forgettable.

If you were a fan of the first Tenacious D album, you’ll probably be sorely disappointed by this one. However, if you liked the super-overproduced, quasi-progressive leaning of “The Pick of Destiny,” I suppose your reception of “Rize of the Fenix” will be a little warmer, although I think all D fans will be quick to cite this third album as their least to date.

I hate to say it, but if this album is any indication of where the band is headed in the future…well, let’s just say that maybe it’s time for JB and Kyle to pass Dio’s cape and scepter onto somebody else.


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