Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why Tenacious D are Smarter Than You Think

On the face of it, Tenacious D's self-titled debut is a very dumb album. It contains songs about anal sex, threesomes, and 'hard fucking', as well as several skits that touch upon such topics as purchasing food from a drive-through and performing push-ups with one's penis. Oh, and at the climax of the 18th track, Rock Your Socks, Jack Black commands the listener to "drop trou and squeeze out a Cleveland steamer".

I'll leave that one to Urban Dictionary.

But actually, Tenacious D is a little bit cleverer than it seems. Under that veneer of toilet humour lies a very cohesive concept that ties everything together quite nicely: Jack Black and Kyle Gass play JB and KG, a pair of layabouts who dream of making it as proper, old-fashioned rock stars. The album is a catalogue of their attempts to be more like their rock 'n' roll heroes, to live their own peculiar version of The Dream.

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:

  • Tribute and Wonderboy are two separate attempts to establish some kind of cool origin story for the band. A bit like Manowar by Manowar, although their origin story ("we met on English ground, in a backstage room") is surprisingly prosaic compared to The D's tales of demons and superpowers.
  • In a similar vein, Explosivo finds JB trying to inject a little bit of Led Zeppelin-style mysticism into his lyrics. He does manage some pretty metal moments ("I am not one of you, I come from an ancient time" sounds like something you'd hear if you played a Styx record backwards) but they're somewhat dulled by the lines that were seemingly thought up on the spot ("we've come to blow you away, we've come to blow your nose" is a highlight). But that's the joke, of course; The D's efforts to sound legitimately hardcore are repeatedly foiled throughout this album by their own daftness, and they end up sounding like two hard rock wannabes who are too juvenile to imitate their heroes. Moving along...
  • At times, JB seems to be running through a checklist of clichéd heavy metal/hard rock topics. The Road is the obligatory song about the hardships of being on tour ("the road is fuckin' hard, the road is fuckin' tough"), and the epic City Hall is all about fucking the system, man. They're singing these songs because, well, that's what everyone sings about, not because they have any particularly good stories about being on the road ("I met a tasty baby in Michigan, we screwed two times, then I left") or any particularly good ideas for making the world a better place ("from now on, we'll travel in TUBES!!").
  • In spite of the silly stuff, there is some seriously badass playing on this album, but I suspect that Dave Grohl's drums and the Dust Brothers' production are just figments of JB's imagination. That's how he wants The D to sound; we don't get to hear what they actually sound like, but that's where the aforementioned skits come in. The skits show us JB and KG as they really are, shorn of the hard rock posturing and world-class sessions musicians. And, inevitably, they're a pair of jerks: JB is an arrogant, short-tempered moron, and KG is a lazy bum who thrives on sarcasm and the food he steals from his flatmate. Even if you were fooled by their half-baked Black Sabbath impersonations, their exchanges in Drive-Thru and Inward Singing demonstrate just how idiotic they (mostly JB, in fairness) really are.
So that's The Big Joke behind Tenacious D. It's the metal album that all the stupid metal fans want to make; packed with tasty riffs and hard rockin', but also sprinkled with dick jokes, borderline misogyny and ham-fisted references to smoking dope. I think it's actually pretty clever, and while you may disagree with me, I'll just ignore you and listen to hot jams like Friendship instead:

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