A few critics have been surprised that Sony Music would so willingly embrace Tenacious D, let alone actively promote the album's four-letter-word-intensive first single, "Fuck Her Gently" -- as if Sony Music wouldn't sell videos of Britney Spears having sex with dead, burning armadillos as long as people were willing to buy them and the inevitable protests didn't cut too deeply into the bottom line. And with all due respect to the D, a "clean" version of this album would (a) suck, and (b) contain roughly 15 minutes of un-bleeped material.
Jack Black and Kyle Gass have come a long way since their appearances on the late, lamented Mr. Show, but their schtick is pretty much the same. They're still a couple of average guys with delusions of grandeur (well, Black, anyway) -- grown up versions of hard rock-obsessed teens. On record, they come across as nothing so much as Bob and Doug MacKenzie reimagined by Quentin Tarantino. The whole "greatest band in the world" thing is actually a deceptively sophisticated mixture of bravado, irony and legitimate skill, but much of their appeal comes down to the word "fuck".
Nobody says "fuck", or its numerous derivatives, better than Jack Black. Not even my wife when she's mad at me. Jack Black says "fuck" the way most guys savor a cigar, wielding it with the savage pleasure of a man who can hear the money trickling into his bank account. As an outlet for Black's larger than life personality, Tenacious D is perfect; much of the album's entertainment value comes from simply hearing him talk, spittle flying from his mouth as he over-emotes. Gass, meanwhile, is an only slightly more vociferous Teller to Black's Penn, existing primarily to give Black a reason to talk and sing.
As entertainment, Tenacious D succeeds surprisingly well -- for the first few listens. The legitimate musical catchiness of songs like "Tribute" and "Lee" is impressive, but a lot of these tunes depend upon variations of the word "fuck" for their humor, or upon the group's encyclopedic knowledge of hard rock clichés -- which wouldn't be funny if they weren't played out to begin with. When JB and KG discuss something other than sexual prowess or "rocking hard", or when they dig a little deeper into their favorite subject matter and go beyond predictable rhymes, they shine, as songs like "Tribute" and "Rock Your Socks" make clear. But as comedy, the music has a limited appeal, depending too heavily of swearing and Spinal Tap-style antics; Black does a lot of things that will make you laugh, but there's relatively little here that's funny. The only long-term replay value you'll get from this record will come from playing it for friends who haven't heard it.
Yes, lots of people will buy Tenacious D and enjoy it. After all, it's funny (and in a few cases, such as "Karate", very fucking funny). But will they enjoy it in three years? Hard to tell. It's too comedy-focused to be a legitimate rock album, and not consistently inventive enough to be a true comedy album...which makes it that most unloved of beasts, a novelty album. And history has seldom been kind to those.