By Reverend Justito at 2:39 PM Thursday, May 3rd 2012
When listening to Tenacious D’s third full length studio album Rize Of The Fenix, it’s hard not to think back to the duo’s stellar 2001 self-titled debut. In paying tribute to Ronnie James Dio years before the beloved metal vocalist lost his battle with cancer, Jack Black and Kyle Gass lovingly joked that at that very moment it was time for the former Black Sabbath vocalist to pass the torch. A decade later, one must wonder if the D were truly worthy of that torch to begin with as their third full length record manages to disappoint harder than the 2006 box office disaster The Pick Of Destiny.
Upon first listen of Rize Of The Fenix there are plenty of cheap laughs to be had. Out the gate, the duo addresses the poorly received Pick Of Destiny with a grandiose opening that shares the same name as the album. Much like a hip hop artist announcing their return to the game, Black belts out a reflective yet confident warning shot that they are in no way messing around.
“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…”
Unfortunately, for the most hardcore of D-ciples, the truly stellar moments on the album are few and far between. The title track is no doubt one the album’s finest. Roadie is another one of the few bright moments for all the wrong reasons. An average song with lyrical content we have all heard before in regard to groupies pleasing roadies in order to get access to the band, it is clear this ode to the hard worker is meant for the live setting. With Black abusing former Saxaboom technician Joe Beebe for years, the possibilities for this song on stage are endless.
Another bright moment is The Ballad Of Hollywood Jack And The Rage Cage. An emotionally charged song that tackles the class divide between Black and Gass, it’s next to impossible not to feel your heart strings being tugged upon as Black sings:
“So Hollywood Jack lived up high on a hill in a bubble and Rage Cage lived deep in the broiling valley below.”
Easily the most emotional material the D has penned since Fuck Her Gently, it is a shame the band couldn’t write more songs of this caliber. The Ballad manages to be funny, awkward and most importantly sincere; ingredients that the rest of the album severely lacks.
The trouble begins with the album’s second song, Low Hanging Fruit. Have no doubt on a musical level that this song will rock your freaking socks off. Yet sadly, lyrically, it will break the hearts of long time D fans. JB and KG have always worked because of their bravado and indulgence. So to hear these two claim they don’t want “high class models in designer fucking bathing suits” is not only shocking, it is the first massive attack upon the glorious and exhausted pillar that the D know they reside upon.
Things only get worse as the albums progress. During the first skit Classical Teacher, Black’s alter ego Felix Char sounds too much like another box office bomb Nacho Libre. It is one thing for the duo to discuss leaving Arcade Fire “in the dust” but by the time the skit segues into Señorita, it is clear the D is light years behind the Grammy Award winning Canadians. Señorita not only sounds like the Red Hot Chili Peppers attempting to cover Ween’s Buenos Tardes Amigo, it’s simply not funny. Perhaps Jables and Rage Cage can convince the folks over at Paramount to use this song in the straight to DVD release Nacho Libre 2 because it is not worthy of anything else.
Other songs on the album don’t seem to fare much better. Deth Starr, much like the entire Rize Of The Fenix experience, is an unfocused and musically uninspired nightmare. After multiple listens, it is still not clear whether they were trying to devise a plan for what to do after Global Warming destroys the Earth, or were simply looking for an excuse to make a joke about Uranus. The song Throwdown seems to epitomize what Christian rockers would sound like if they were trying to cover Iggy Pop’s Passenger. Rock Is Dead is another generic number with cliché riffs and some serious name dropping over tears. Sharing the same message that we have heard from the likes of Marilyn Manson and Lenny Kravitz, we get that rock is dead, thanks for the useless reminder.
You know things are bad when the decade old live staple They Fucked Our Asses can’t turn around the downhill momentum of the once mighty Tenacious D. Yes, the Iron Maiden-esque tasty riffs at the end will no doubt give the hair upon your arms a tiny tingle but that feeling quickly goes away with To Be The Best. Musically, it manages to suck harder than the Pick Of Destiny dud Car Chase City and it’s clear in the vocals that not even the D believe they are the best at this point.
The album ends with the depressing 39. Once again the self-declared “Greatest Band In The World” aim low as they sing about women who are a year away from 40. While it is hard not to laugh when Black sings a pre-chorus, sharing the joys of self-inflicted anal stimulation, he really should leave the Bruce Springsteen impressions to Jimmy Fallon. Perhaps the D are stretching for signs of maturity as they close the album, but sadly all 39 does is serves as the final blow to the D’s once mighty pedestal.
It is clear that in 2012, Tenacious D no longer wants to be the best. In fact it is clear that they want to be painfully mediocre. Where early D classics like Tribute, Karate and Double Team still hold up well over a decade after they were unleashed upon the world, a majority of the material upon Fenix is no longer tolerable let alone funny after two or three listens. Black may claim after the epic reunion between him and Gass within the lyrics of Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Cage that “nothing and no one can harm the old Rage Cage again” but it is clear that the only thing harming Tenacious D at this point is themselves.