Review: Tenacious D- Rize Of The Fenix

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June 17, 2012 by Dan Swinhoe

“When the Pick of Destiny was released, it was a bomb and all the critics said that the D was done. The sun had set and the chapter had closed, but one thing no one thought about was the D would rise again. Just like the Fenix, we’ll fucking Rize again…”

Jack Black; ‘Rize Of The Fenix’ 

It wasn’t a massive surprise when 2006’s feature-film and accompanying soundtrack The Pick Of Destiny didn’t perform as well as the band hoped. The D were never cinematic in scope, but more about a few friends having a laugh in a dingy bedroom somewhere. The original shorts were cheap dirty and hilarious, where The Pick… was over produced and just a little bit too family-friendly (as much as the D could be). DVD sales made up for the lack of cinema goers, but the whole experience left the band shaken, and on the Masterworks II documentary, we’re shown frontman Jack Black asking himself if ‘the world has had enough of Jack Black?’

Maybe we had. It didn’t help the album was a bit of a dud in comparison to 2000’s self-titled debut. Not that it was terrible, there was some real quality hidden amongst the stinky poos, but overall, as Mr. Black sings, there was the feeling this was the end of the long and lonesome road for the greatest band on Earth.

Fast forward SIX years, and new D material finally lands on our doorsteps. Ever-careful caretakers of their own myth, the third album from Jabels and Kyle ‘Rage Cage’ Gass tells the tale of two men torn apart by the tanking of The Pick…, Jack becoming an ever-bigger star(?) while Cage wallowed in a sanitarium before the two rejoined forces. Rising, if you will, like a phoenix from the ashes.

Opening with the albums namesake, It starts as an acoustic ballad before taking turns through rock and metal, and pretty much encapsulates the mish-mash nature of the previous record. A great opener; it’s clever, involving, and questions whether the legions of D fans will have to ‘laser off their D tattoos,’ and of course none of them did right?

Their comedy remains as low brow as ever, as demonstrated by track no.2. Low Hanging Fruit is a full-blown rock song (featuring the ever-present Dave Grohl guesting on drums again), the fruit they lust after being not so pretty ladies (probably of ill-repute). Sex and fruit, not quite ordering your favourite dish from Zanzibar, but it’s catchy and good fun.

The rest of the album takes these twists between acoustic story-ballads and random songs in different styles. Throwdown tackles religion with a beat that reminds (me, at least) of Green Day’s pop-punk, while Rock Is Dead is a short little rawk’n’roll number. They Fucked Our Asses is painfully short, but listen closely and it’s the most metal track on the album. To Be The Best is 80s montage music, pure and simple. These may seem like short assessments, but when the total playing time of these songs is around five minutes, it’s hard to make any deep analysis.

Jack’s best work is when he creates stories, and all the best tracks feature tall tales and epic imagery. Roadie is an acoustic ballad of epic proportions, and describes the hard life of a roadie. It’s a different beast to Motörhead’s rollicking ode, not as heavy and more glorifying, it’s a work of genius. The Ballad Of Hollywood Jack And The Rage Cage is a work of almost Dylan-esque folk, and even provides some flute-work. Yes, Flutes. Deth Starr lumbers in all over the place, lacking any real direction, but provides a laugh, while 39 is an emotional tale about Jack and his older lady of the night. Black’s inner Young & Springsteen are channelled here, right up to the point he talks about fiddling with his anus.

Rize… also sees the return glorious of the skits, though sadly only two of them. Classical Teacher is very gay, Black reviving his Nacho Libre voice as a teacher who gets a bit too friendly when teaching Cage. It’s ok but Flutes & Trombones is far better. Typical of many bands and rumours throughout the years, Cage and Jabels catch each other out bringing various un-rock instruments to the recording studio late at night. Genuinely funny and wouldn’t have been out of place on the debut.

The narrative songs are great, and really tap into the humour that the D are renowned/infamous for. The skits are great too, just a shame there’s not more of them. The main problem lies in the traditional ‘verse chorus verse’ structured songs. They’re musically all over the place, mostly generic and generally the ideas feel like underdeveloped demo ideas. Reception to the album has been mixed, and generally your enjoyment of Rize… depends on how seriously you take your comedy rock and how much of a hardened D-sciple you are.

The D have always been keen on the visual funnies, and Rize… provides a host of accompanying videos. Rize Of The Fenix opens with the band in druid outfits, and soon descends into dragons, sword-guitars and special effects galore. Good fun and from a quick look at the rest of the vids, the one where they blew most of the video budget.

The D are probably one of the few bands in the world able to stretch a one minute song into a six-minute video, but they do a great job into To Be The Best. Most of the video plays out the narrative of the band getting back together, Cage shooting Val Kilmer, and the band using a montage to get back up to scratch.  Rock Is Dead is short and to be the point, the band dresses as Grim Reapers, and it’s a case of ‘what you sing is what you see.’ Surely there was more potential in a video for Deth StarrThe Roadie get a justifiably moving video, showing the rise and fall of a roadie (Danny McBride). Lots of black and white footage, all very emotional, and in stark contrast to Low Hanging Fruit. The tackiest video you’ll see all year features cheap rented pimp suits, lots of fruit and dry humping. You’ll feel dirty just watching it.

[As a side note: You may notice the Phoenix on the cover is actually a massive cock, though of course the band deny this, but still slap a sticker over the ‘penix’ or give you the option of the clean version, still featuring the terrible spelling]

Just like the album proper, the bonus tracks vary in quality, but all of them see the D stripped back to acoustics. Quantum Leap is excellent, full of the self-assured pomp that fuelled the first album, Rivers Of Brown is a non-starter that is the most forgettable track the D have ever released, While Five Needs brings a tear to the eye, promoting the essential nature of rock through a sweet little ballad.

ROTF  doesn’t reach the epic highs of the eponymous debut, but it’s still a decent and sometimes brilliant ‘rawk’ record. The question is, over a decade into D lore, with most of the fanbase reaching adulthood, is the  joke wearing a bit thin or are they a funny throwback to simpler days? Hitting #2 in the UK and #4 in the US suggest the world still needs the D to tell us about the time they played the greatest song in the world.


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