Tenacious D, by Tenacious D
Reviewed by Roy Williams
When it comes to film and television, a lot of my favourite works are not neatly categorised into comedy or drama, but are a mix of both – comedy-drama, or “dramedy”. It’s a good recipe: characters develop, they deal with different problems and emotions, but that sprinkling of humour keeps the whole thing light and digestible. Comedy allows the creators to delve deeper into territory that might otherwise be too dark, too much for the viewer to handle. Mixing comedy and drama, ideally, will get you the best of both worlds.
But an album mixing comedy with music? That’s not so appealing to me. Music doesn’t need the comedy to balance it out – music alone works just fine. Often, one is the focus at the expense of the other. Mixing comedy and music, on occasion, will get you the worst of both worlds.
Tenacious D’s self-titled album is one of the few albums from the guest reviewer selection that I’d already heard through in full (a few times, around the time of its release (2001)), so I already had something to work with for this review. That something was a lot of ambivalence: I thought it had some OK tracks, some grating or distracting lyrics or skits, some decent songs, a legit banger, and a memorable and transparently titled skit called Cock Pushups. If someone else were to have played this album, I would have been happy enough to listen, but I wouldn’t have chosen it myself.
Two decades later? For me the legit banger – Tribute – remains king. The concept is sublime – sort of an inverted reworking of the story of the Faustian bargain of Robert Johnson selling his soul at the “Crossroads”, in order to perfectly play the guitar. I’m thinking everyone reading already knows Tribute’s concept, but if you don’t… then have a listen! I love the tongue-in-cheek cockiness that’s pulled off so well here – and present throughout the album.
I do still find the alternating between skit and song distracting, especially given the content. And are you listening to an album, or listening to and thinking about them creating it? Diving into (out to?) the meta can work really well on TV, à la Community (where Tenacious D’s own Jack Black guests in one episode!). But to use that concept on an album? Tribute aside, I’m not totally sold on the meta-ness. Luckily, the skits are usually pretty funny, and provide some quirky interludes into the songs themselves.
I realise that it’s customary in album reviews to mention the music at some point.
The album’s style is … Americana-infused acoustic heavy rock and metal? Borrowing heavily from the latter, it’s full of flamboyance, hooks, and harmonies. It’s full of fun! For me, the feel of the whole thing draws a comparison with two other comedians also doing music: imagine the Blues Brothers changed their genre, leaned harder into the comedy, and got really horny. I loved their original film and its music, but after the flaccid effort of Blues Brothers 2000, it’s fair to say that a Tenacious D filled the hole, so to speak.
Speaking of double entendres, if you’re not a fan of endless sexual references, this is probably not the album for you! Lyrically, it’s a mix of story-telling, sex and sexual conquest, and camaraderie – very bro-ish – but in a ridiculously over-the-top way, and not at all to be taken seriously. Is it an accomplishment when the obviously and thoroughly explicit F**k Her Gently is one of the two most famous tracks on the album, or is that the reason for the infamy? The song is a great illustration of their humour, and I find it hard not to smile when it comes on, no matter how many times I’ve heard it.
The key element that makes the album work is the charm, charisma, and comedic delivery of both the songs and skits. It’s what keeps the jokes and lyrics from getting stale when you hear them again, and you already know what’s coming. The music and lyrics are catchy, light, and fun, which I think is a great salve for 2020.
The best non-Tribute/F**k Her Gently track for me is Wonderboy, because how many songs tell a quirky superhero-musician crossover story? It’s that kind of creativity that propels the less famous tracks along. I’m going to give Tenacious D 7/10. Maybe I’ll choose it myself, from now on. And the best skit is still Cock Pushups.