If 2006’s Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny hadn’t bombed at the box office, Jack Black and Kyle Gass would’ve had to invent some other setback to rise (or rize) from on the new Rize Of The Fenix. Black acknowledges the failure of Destiny right in the album’s opening line, as well as the not-all-that-exaggerated assumption that the movie finished off Tenacious D for good. But rather than dwell on Jack and Rage Kage’s bad fortune, Rize posits The Pick Of The Destiny as motivation for Tenacious D to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is still the best rock ’n’ roll band on the planet—or any other planet for that matter. Only crushing failure can motivate that level of blinding hubris, and it puts Tenacious D on a furious quest that brings out its best on Rize.
Let’s get one thing straight right away: Tenacious D is not the best band on earth. (Though it does rival Arcade Fire, which is name-checked as competition in the skit “Classical Teacher.”) But like any top-tier musical-comedy record, be it Lonely Island’s Turtleneck And Chain or Tenacious D’s classic 2001 self-titled debut, Rize Of The Fenix works equally well as music and comedy. In fact, while the D’s humor hasn’t changed much (sample lyric, from “Deth Starr”: “Fucking ’til I’m fucking insane”), its music has moved in a loonier, spacier, more progressive direction—as in full-on prog-rock.
Whereas Tenacious D was an arena-metal record, Rize Of The Fenix touches on a number of styles, including the Spanish guitar finger-picking of “Senorita,” the English folk of “The Ballad Of Hollywood Jack And The Rage Kage,” and the ’80s soundtrack pastiche “To Be The Best.” Rize still has plenty of heft—much of it courtesy of Dave Grohl, who plays drums on nearly every track—but Black and Gass have made an album that is surprisingly varied and even epic at times, particularly the title track, which moves through Iron Maiden dynamics to a gooey, power-pop chorus. No joke: Rize Of The Fenix is one of the year’s most enjoyable hard-rock records.