Started as a series of short films amended to HBO’s Mr. Show, Tenacious D — part folklore, part fart joke — is a beautiful thing. The duo of Jack Black and Kyle Gass proclaim themselves “The Greatest Band in History.” Their comedy mixes Cheech & Chong, Spinal Tap and Beavis and Butt-head; the music is acoustic-laced hard rock, with Black’s exaggerated vocals and lyrics leading the way. Big dumb fun. But underlying the rampant drug references, profanity and sexist excursions lies a smart parody of both the world of struggling bar bands that know they ROCK (and do), and the world of bullshit rock stars who think they ROCK (and don’t). Because of this, the D is far better than the bloated, humorless stuff that it exploits.
On Tenacious D, the pair’s stripped-down live act is expanded to its intended metal glory. An impressive backing crew adds credibility to the band’s imaginary mystique — Dave Grohl, Warren Fitzgerald of the Vandals, Page McConnell of Phish, Steve McDonald of Redd Kross — and the Dust Brothers lead the production. The varied sound pillages many genres. “Kielbasa,” a crass ode to anal sex, revels in loose-limbed jamband material. “Tribute” (they have to perform “the greatest and best song in the world” to save their souls from Satan’s grasp, but they have, umm, forgotten the darn thing) is serious shlock-rock that introduces Black’s trademark persona. “Fuck Her Gently” takes the limits of a love ballad to new lows, and “The Road” encapsulates every on-the-road rock song of the last 30 years into little over two minutes. It all comes to a head with “City Hall,” the epic album-ender/showstopper that kills the two off in grand Shakespearean fashion.
Some of the best songs could easily pass for straight rock. “Karate” is either a lost Guns n’ Roses track or one bitchin’ Jethro Tull tune (and features a most tender use of the word “motherfucker”). “Wonderboy” soars like U2, and “Friendship” could be Barenaked Ladies (although the line, “As long as there’s a record deal we’ll always be friends,” is much too cool for those Canadians). The best of the lot, “Explosivo,” is a punk/metal breakout that far exceeds its joke-rock provenance.
The album also includes straight comedy bits both gut-busting (“Inward Singing”) and time-wasting (“Drive-Thru”), but all explore the archetypal dumb guy/angry guy combo that makes the D so likable. In many ways, they are the Laurel and Hardy of our times.