Tenacious D falls from grace

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November 16, 2006

2:40 AM

Tenacious D first appeared in 1997 as a low-rate HBO series devoted to two wannabes running the open-mic-night circuit who were claiming to be the greatest band in the world. Now, nearly a decade later, Jack Black and Kyle Gass (also known as Jables and Kage or JB and KG) have made their fantastical claims arguably true. With the release of the Tenacious D movie, “Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny,” the band is setting the stage for complete world domination. The problem is, in some circles, The D have reigned for ages, and the band’s latest ventures won’t live up to its fans’ extreme expectations. The movie may turn out fine, but the sub-par soundtrack makes a strong case that The D peaked years ago.

p. First of all, the HBO series flopped. Totalling six episodes, the show debuted in 1997, but the last four episodes were held over until 1999. When the rest of the show finally aired, a small fanbase was created, but the show still flopped. However, the 2001 release of the band’s self-titled album “Tenacious D” was met with glowing reviews from fans and critics alike, and the band rode the album to rock superstardom. How did two fat, cocky, potty-mouthed losers become rock gods? Frankly, their music rocked.

p. With their unique blend of classically trained acoustic folk-rock, good old-fashioned hair metal and two of the funniest minds in the business, Tenacious D put out an album that critics could credit as having great, catchy, well-written music, as well as being absolutely hilarious. The album sports 21 hysterical tracks, including singles “Wonderboy,” wherein JB and KG claim to be faux superheroes Wonderboy and Young Nasty Man; “Tribute,” a tribute to the “greatest and best song in the world,” which the duo once played to outwit a demon but later forgot; and “Fuck Her Gently,” a sweet song coyly admitting “you don’t always have to fuck her hard.” Every track is wonderful, especially the funny little skits like “Friendship Test” and “Drive-Thru.”

p. One may never compare the band’s first album to the greatest rock albums of all time, but, for what it is, it is quite possibly perfect. My only complaint? There’s just not enough. After the album made a name for Kage and Jables, the two went on to bigger and better things. Black starred in Hollywood hits like “School of Rock,” while Gass has made a career of bit parts like his small role in “Elf.” Still, the best work they have done is that rock masterpiece that has proven a mainstay in many a CD player. So why has it taken them five years to release a follow-up? The greatest band in the world needs to be the best working band in the world, too. And that, my friends, is the problem with the new album and the movie.

p. I want to love this movie, and I’m sure I will, because Jack and Kyle are great actors and comedians. I want to love the soundtrack, too, hoping it is the second great symphony from the best band alive. But, to be blunt, the music just isn’t good anymore. “Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny” doesn’t live up to the band’s early work. Sure, when Jables asks Kage on “The Divide,” “What’s it gonna be Kyle? You have to decide. Chicks or destiny?” and Kyle resolutely responds, “Chicks” you have to chuckle. Classic D. “Kickapoo” proves a formidable rock opera opener, breaking between electric rock and acoustic lament, featuring familiar themes: “Dio can you hear me? / I am lost and so alone / I’m asking for your guidance / Would you come down from your throne?” But beyond a few bright stars, the tracks seem to fail on the launch pad. The album’s first single, “The Pick of Destiny,” is muddy and pointless. The production is too shiny, the music too average and the jokes too flat. The song the kids play with JB in “School of Rock” rocks harder than most of the songs on the album. The drums seem the same on every song, and the guitar effects are cover-band-quality. With a couple of exceptions, the album is bland — very out of character for The D.

p. “Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny” doesn’t have the same flavor as the band’s only true album. The D has all but abandoned their acoustic noodlings for overproduced, layered metal guitars stealing the spotlight from Jack’s wonderfully pure voice. It speaks to the quality of the album when the best song on it is merely a new recording of an old song. “History,” a completely ridiculous history of Tenacious D’s “rise to power,” dates back to the HBO series, with a few slight lyrical changes. The problem with this album is at it’s core: Tenacious D was funny when it consisted of two endearing nobodies. The joke has lost its luster. Now that they are the greatest band in the world, they can’t live up to the expectations they worked so hard to ingrain in their public. I was offered a chance to see The D live this December in D.C. The entry fee: $40. I turned it down. They’ve come a long way from their open mic night beginnings. Too bad. Let’s just hope the movie is entertaining.

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