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ALBUM REVIEW: Tenacious D, Rize Of The Fenix

TITLE: Rize Of The Fenix
BAND: Tenacious D
LABEL: Columbia Records
RELEASED: May 14th 2012

Tenacious D made their comeback this week with their first album in six years. It’s the Californian duo’s third album and follows 2006’s The Pick Of Destiny, the soundtrack of their film of the same name. It’s full of lewd imagery and outrageous statements but it’s this that makes Tenacious D who they are. There is also a commentary version of the album available to listen to on Spotify, which I’ll be making reference to in this review.

Rize Of The Fenix begins with the title track, which Jack jokingly says is “a lot like Bohemian Rhapsody”. It takes the criticism that The Pick Of Destiny received and uses it to rise from the ashes, much like a phoenix. It encapsulates everything that the album is about with an Eye Of The Tiger-like backing for dramatic effect. It’s a great show opener and it probably will be another big hit for them. There is a School Of Rock type interlude, which is also seen most prominently in Rock Is Dead later on in the album.

There are a couple of spoken word tracks on the album such as Classical Teacher and Flutes and Trombones. These are pure comedy pieces and although it is quite slapstick and silly comedy as opposed to sarcastic wit, they’re certainly feel-good tracks. Classical Teacher is about Kyle not being good enough for the band, so Jack poses as a Spanish music teacher who gets a bit freaky. The twist at the end, when it’s revealed that it was Jack in disguise makes the track funny and we can see that Jack is drawing on his film work, in this case his role as Nacho Libre to acquire the Spanish accent and mannerisms. The commentary on the track says “we wanted to capture the essence of what it’s like to want to be the greatest band on Earth” and in a way, the issue of a band member perhaps needing a bit more support is something that musicians can relate to. We can’t really probe too deep though, as it’s a track not meant for analysing. Flutes and Trombones is another confrontation between Jack and Kyle in the studio. Jack finds Kyle in the studio at night with a flute and starts to question him but it’s revealed that Jack is there with a trombone. It’s a quick comedy sketch that Jack says “we wrote this five years ago but now was the time to use it, so we just placed it right in the middle of the album”.

Carrying on the Spanish theme, Classical Teacher flows into Senorita, a track which is spurred on by Spanish trumpets and guitars. It centres around an encounter that Jack has with a man while trying to protect a Spanish women that he’s in love with. The lyrics describe a situation of slapstick, melodramatic violence and the rhythm cleverly matches that of a traditional Spanish dance. As is said on the commentary, the act of chivalry is in vain as “it’s about a man who loves a Spanish woman and goes to the ends of the Earth to protect her, only to find that she doesn’t want his protection”.

A couple of songs such as Deth Starr and The Ballad Of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Kage begin with slow guitars and then launch into much bigger anthems. This is something that Tenacious D do a lot and they always have done, if you think of Tribute. However, it is quintessentially them. Deth Starr is a track about how the Earth is slowly decaying and the suggestion that the human race should build a spaceship, in order to escape the world, when it eventually breaks down. It’s makes a full circle with the the end mirroring the start, in terms of sound and style, which makes it a very interesting track. The band seem to mock conventional rock bands by simulating a slow melodic ballad about the state of the environment before reverting back to themselves for the main body of the song. The commentary states that “we wrote it for a movie called Heavy Metal, which never got made”. Good thing they didn’t let such a good song go to waste!

The Ballad Of Hollywood Jack and Rage Kage sticks to the true meaning of a ballad- a narrative. It’s about how Jack is a much bigger star than Kyle and the possible implications of how fame can affect a friendship. It begins with the slow guitar and there is a feeling of peace and then speeds up and moves with the state of Kyle’s mind, as he apparently goes insane. Although it is Tenacious D, it’s quite a powerful song for them. The pipes add to the comedy, as they enter with the sad episode of Kyle being admitted to hospital. It’s the juxtaposition of the serious matter in hand with the comedic way they handle it that leave you with a feeling such as “should I really be laughing at this?!”

The album dips its toes into pop with the song Throw Down. Its bass builds suspense very well and I think it would be a great riff to play as a filler at gigs. It’s an anti-religion track, as Jack is famously atheist. It secularises the main religious names, Jesus and Moses and turns them into superhero-type figures, implying they are as fictional as superheroes. Jack says “they each have their own superpowers… just to show how ridiculous it all is”. It’s quite a philosophical song but very controversial for obvious reasons. This may stop it becoming a hit but if we’re talking about sound, then it definitely could be a big song. It’s something a little bit different from them, which is always going to grab attention.

The album closes with a love song and the vocals point to Jack doing his best country crooner impression. 39, although riddled with explicit content, is ultimately a beautiful sentimental song about non superficial love. It’s clearly about how they’re getting older and therefore their tastes are maturing. Jack says “love in the 40s can be incredibly volcanic”, which is what 39 encompasses. Love and sex aren’t just for teenagers and twenty-somethings. It’s the only track on the album that isn’t self-indulgent or just plain silly, so it’s a refreshing end to the record.

Tenacious D have spread their wings, risen again and are back with a vengeance. It’s great to have a band like them, who aren’t conforming to an established genre and who are still doing their own thing. They’ve  been around for many years now and there’s still not many other bands who have been as successful in combining music and comedy. That in itself is something that we need to thank them for.

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