- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

The Pick of Destiny

Tenacious D

Epic Records

Spoiler alert: Don’t listen to the soundtrack to the new Tenacious D movie if you want to be surprised by the twists and turns of the plot. The comedic power duo announce their intentions and advance their story with each song.

If it weren’t keyed to a movie, “The Pick of Destiny” would be considered an ambitious parody of a concept album — a comedic version of David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” It’s emblematic of Tenacious D’s peculiar genius that the duo are able to satirize a rock ‘n’ roll subgenre in the service of a larger ambition: telling the story of Tenacious D.

Briefly, the men of Tenacious D escape confining, puritan upbringings and defeat various mostly unprintable obstacles before facing their greatest challenge: a “rock off” with the devil himself for control of the “Pick of Destiny,” a guitar pick made from a diabolical fingernail.

The real story is that Tenacious D was the invention of budding comedians Jack Black and Kyle Gass in the early 1990s, when the pair belonged to Los Angeles improv troupe the Actors’ Gang. The band’s central fiction — although its fictionality diminishes as the band earns more and more notoriety — is that they were two marginally talented fat guys who compensated with total commitment to attaining rock glory and writing “tasty jams.” They parlayed a few gigs at the Viper Room into a short-lived HBO sitcom that spotlighted their misadventures.

The sitcom propelled Jack Black to film stardom, leaving Tenacious D in the dust. It was only a mater of time before Mr. Black became so famous that he was able to get backing for a film chronicling Tenacious D’s rise from obscure origins to the pinnacle of rock. In other words, unlike Spinal Tap, a fictitious band that became real, Tenacious D is a real band that became fictional.

The music, like the story is mostly (OK, completely) derivative. A critic with an encyclopedic knowledge could compile an authoritative concordance of Tenacious D homages: A short list includes Led Zepplin, Beethoven, Rush, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Kiss, Dio, Judas Priest, Donovan and every psychedelic outfit with the temerity or bad judgment to record a pan-flute solo. The lyrics contain bits and pieces of Tenacious D legend that will be familiar to fans. A demonic battle provided the back story for the band’s first hit, “Tribute.” The film’s subplot about sasquatch recalls an episode of the HBO show.

As ever, the key to Tenacious D’s comedy is total commitment to the bit. However, it’s difficult to prove this with direct quotations in a family newspaper.

It’s not surprising how funny the lyrics are; what’s surprising is how much a few of the tracks actually rock. The climactic song, “Beelzeboss (The Final Showdown)” is a triumphalist metal ballad interspersing raging power-chord frenzy with the flickering indecision of Mr. Black and Mr. Gass as they plot strategy against an opponent who “rocks too hard because he’s not a mortal man.”

If longtime fans have anything to object to on “The Pick of Destiny,” it’s that some of these jams sound a bit too tasty to be the work of the D.

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