Monday, May 21, 2012
Classic Albums: Tenacious D
Many might look askance at me for naming a record put out just eleven years ago by a comedy duo in the classic category, but I think it belongs, for both artistic and sentimental reasons. On the sentimental side, it brings me happy memories of graduate school, when my friends would play this album, and we would all repeat the jokes. Some of us even saw Weezer in concert in Bloomington-Normal mostly to catch the D's opening performance. (JB and KG were pleasantly surprised by the crowd's enthusiasm; little did they know that the local college radio station had been playing "Wonderboy" to death.) This album saw its official release on September 18, 2001, a time when myself and others really needed a laugh-filled distraction from the world.
Artistically, the D are a throwback to the hard rock of the 1970s and 80s, which they masterfully satire with the kind of depth that only love can understand. The riffs are killer but obvious, the lyrics profane and overblown, but the songs stick with you long after they're over. Their first album, like those of yore, really has to be played in its original sequence; the shuffle option on the iPod turns it into incomprehensible hash. This isn't just because of the comedy sketches that properly introduce may of the songs; it's an album that starts with catchier tunes, dips into more profane territory, and ends with a cannabis-induced epic about JB and KG (Jack Black and Kyle Gass, for the unitiated) leading some kind of global revolution and setting themselves up as monarchs, complete with interecine poisonings. It's all so wonderfully dirty, strange, and goddamned funny that you're amazed that the powers that be let them make it.
Take the aforementioned "Wonderboy," for example. It's catchy, it rocks, it works as an homage to the "dragons and kings" lyrical stylings of Ronnie James Dio, but ends with the immortal lines "There, the crevice! Fill it, with your might juice!" It's as if they were stoned at 2AM watching The Song Remains the Same one night and decided to take up Robert Plant's rhetorical question "does anyone remember laughter?" while simultaneously admiring Jimmy Page's monster riffs. Speaking of Dio, they rock hardest on a song of that name where they vow to take his throne and don his "cape and scepter." Their satire has a rare and admirable sincerity to it, since it's grounded in love and affection, not derision. Even if they are making fun of classic rock conventions, like the road song on "The Road," Tenacious D so obviously enjoy playing the role of arena rock gods.
Independent rock music has become so serious and lacking in humor that Tenacious D's debut still sounds like a fresh antidote to the rest of the scene even today. Sometimes you have to drop the pretenses and just rock out with the type of tunes made for ripping through some asphalt in a Camaro. Tenacious D still interests me as an album because it manages to combine such fun with real sincerity. Take the song "Tribute," for example, which KG and JB sing with earnest conviction, despite the presence of a snorting demon so hilarious that I have a hard time getting through the song without my own snorting with laughter.
After "Tribute," though, the rest of the album gets less reverential and more ridiculously, dirtily funny. There's a plea for gentle sex wrapped in language that would make a sailor blush and a song about a threesome that includes the rather evocative imagery of "Me and KG come naked out of the side hatch." Something about the term "side hatch" just cracks me up, I can't explain it. The same goes for the final number, the multi-suite mini-opera "City Hall," which reminds me of the Who's "A Quick One While He's Away" filtered through "Holy Diver" and several bong hits. It's a fitting end to an album that has always brought a smile to my face in the hardest of times, an ability that very few have the capacity to do.