17 Years On, Does Tenacious D’s Debut Actually Live Up To The Hype?
"If I were to make a list of albums that open with a song about anal sex, Tenacious D would easily take the number one spot."
There’s nothing quite like the acute feeling of disappointment you get from revisiting something you used to enjoy, only to discover that it sucks.
The bitter feeling is two pronged: first, there’s the disappointment that it doesn’t hold up to your nostalgia, and then there’s the embarrassment of how you could even like it in the first place.
So when comedy-rock duo Tenacious D — aka Jack Black and Kyle Gass — recently announced their new album, Post-Apocalypto, we figured now was as good as any time to revisit their self-titled debut for the first time in over a decade to see whether it holds up.
So does it? Well, the short answer is yes, it does. Built on a bedrock of dick and fart jokes, Tenacious D is a loving parody of rock and roll that expertly skewers the genre and the self-important types that populate it.
Also, if I were to make a list of albums that open with a song about anal sex, Tenacious D would easily take the number one spot.
The Beginning Of The Greatest Rock Band In The World
Black is a loud-mouthed egotist — a distillation of every guy who has bought a guitar and fancies himself the next Jim Morrison (everyone knows That One Guy — and if you don’t know one and you own a guitar, chances are you’re That One Guy) while Gass is the humble, straight man, infinitely more talented than Black. After all, KG is classically trained to “rock your fucking socks off.”
Named after sportscaster Marv Albert’s description of a basketball team’s strong defense, Tenacious D, originally met one another in 1985 as a part of the Los Angeles acting troupe, The Actor’s Gang.
Despite Gass initially feeling intimidated by Black, their friendship flourished. In 1994, Black and Gass took to the stage at an LA bar named Al’s for their first ever live performance. Armed only with acoustic guitars, The D proceeded to rock out with the only song in their arsenal: a tribute to the best song in the world.
During one of their live performances they caught the eye of comedian David Cross, who struck up a friendship, casting Black in a few episodes of the absurd sketch comedy series, Mr. Show. With the help of Cross and Mr. Show co-creator Bob Odenkirk, The D shopped around a TV series pitch that followed the lives of a fictionalised version of the band, eventually scoring a deal with HBO.
The Tenacious D series was only six, 15-minute episodes that, despite being made in 1997, would air right up until 2000. But even with the slow release and cancellation of their TV series, The D weren’t beat.
Like many alternative comedy acts, a cult following formed around them. A following big enough that they managed to score opening spots for Tool, Beck, Pearl Jam, and the Foo Fighters.
Black’s acting career had also begun to take off, specifically thanks to his role in High Fidelity as the obnoxious music elitist Barry — a blood brother to Tenacious D’s JB. Black and Gass also appeared together as Tenacious D in a couple of movies, including the Citizen Kane of the 1990s, Bio-Dome.
A studio album was inevitable, and Tenacious D eventually landed in 2001, a few months before Shallow Hal really blew up Black’s career.
So, Was The Album Actually Good?
The album still retains their two-man acoustic sound in places, but they now had the support of a full band. Since it’s apparently impossible to not become Dave Grohl’s friend — Black and Gass appeared in music video for ‘Learn To Fly’ a few years earlier — the Foo Fighters frontman pulls a double-shift as the album’s drummer and the shiny demon in the music video for ‘Tribute’.
It was also produced by The Dust Brothers, the same producers responsible for Beck’s Odelay, Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique and Hanson’s ‘MMMBop.’
You no doubt know their biggest hit, ‘Tribute’, the band’s tribute to the “greatest and best song in the world”, which they wrote to slay a demon — but have since forgotten how it goes. (Fun fact: it was inspired by the band realising they’d never be able to write a song as good as Metallica’s ‘One.’)
Lesser musicians wish they could sound as half as tender as Black crooning, ‘You don’t always have to fuck her hard.’
There’s a song about the unbreakable bonds of friendship (“As long as there’s a record deal we’ll always be friends”), kicking your housemate’s butt after they eat your schnitzel — and a delicate love ballad, titled ‘Fuck Her Gently.’ Lesser musicians wish they could sound as half as tender as Black crooning, ‘You don’t always have to fuck her hard.’
When The D kick out the jams on tracks like ‘Explosivo’ and ‘Rock Your Socks’, they put their money where their mouths are and deliver some straight up, ballsy tracks. The same goes for ‘The Road’, a riff on the hard-travelling rock song: “[The Road]’s fuckin’ hard, and it’s also really fuckin’ tough.”
There’s also ‘Wonderboy’, a parody of Dio-esque fantasy rock that tells the tale of Wonderboy and Young Nasty Man (who has the ability to “kill a yak from 200 yards away with mind bullets.”)
The album closes with ‘City Hall’, a rock-opera about Tenacious D inciting an uprising to overthrow City Hall because they keep “fucking it up for the people that’s in the streets”. The band establish themselves as Two Kings, and decree that that will be no pollution and that we’ll travel in tubes. They then poison one-another in an attempt to seize power.
And Is It Any Good Now?
The influence of the HBO series shines through on Tenacious D. A third of the album is skits, most of which feel improvised, such as Black’s misguided attempts at creating new sounds through inward singing and a song played using just one note.
The funniest of these skits is ‘Drive Thru’, which involves Black telling the fast food clerk to mix half-Coke and half-Diet Coke, and to take two chicken McNuggets from a six-pack and throw them out because he only wants four, because he’s trying to watch his calorie intake.
Let’s get one thing straight: Tenacious D is an incredibly juvenile album.
Let’s get one thing straight: Tenacious D is an incredibly juvenile album (there’s a skit literally called “Cock Pushups”) but you can’t fault Black’s wild charisma and Gass’ riffs.
Tenacious D are open-mic schlubs with immense illusions of grandeur who earnestly believe that they are the greatest band in the world (especially Black). They’d love for you to hear the greatest and best song in the world, but they forget how it goes.
It’s a parody of every rock god wannabe who think rocking is all about big, overcomplicated guitar licks and living a decadent, debaucherous lifestyle. It’s a bit that worked, and still works.
Chris Neill is a pop culture writer. He actually does know what the greatest song in the world sounds like. He tweets at @garflyf.