- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Spinal Tap

Back From the Dead

There’s no question that Spinal Tap, subject of the 1984 film that gave rise to the term “mockumentary,” has become that which it once mocked - a withered, wrinkled artifact of a fading genre.

The adolescent, testosterone-fueled hair metal that made a rich target in the mid-1980s is largely in retreat. It’s not clear what there is to distinguish the nostalgia tour undertaken by Spinal Tap with the road shows of bands including Def Leppard, Whitesnake and Poison. More to the point, the intentional comedy of Spinal Tap tracks such as “Big Bottom” can’t compare to the hilarity generated by a version of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” executed with full-on sincerity.

On the 19-track “Back From the Dead” and its companion commentary DVD, band mates David St. Hubbins (played by Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) are looking and sounding a little worse for wear. Their wigs are a little grayer, their faces a little more heavily lined.

Click here to listen to “Back From The Dead”.

The DVD features the band talking about each track in turn. These in-character musings are cute here and there, but as Mr. St. Hubbins himself observed in another context, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”

As odd as it may seem, a new chapter might have been just the thing to grow the Tap legend. There are new generations of awfulness in contemporary metal bands, including Linkin Park, Korn and Limp Bizkit, that cry out for mockery.

Sadly, Tap opts to retreat into more familiar realms. There’s a reggae version of the bubble-gum track “Give Me Some Money” that is interesting simply by being off-kilter from the rest of the album. The remix “(Junky) Sex Farm” adds some funk bass and horns to the hypersuggestive lyrics. The new track “Back From the Dead” blends a speed-metal riff with reverb-heavy drumrolls and a blistering guitar solo that may involve as many as eight different notes. The band sings: “We’re back from the dead/Putting up resistance/ Clinging to existence/And ready for bed.”

As much as anything else, the return of Spinal Tap makes an interesting case study in the nature of satire. To wit: If a fake band looks to cash in on its 25th anniversary by cutting an album of retreads with just enough fresh material to justify calling it “new,” is the purchaser of said record still in on the joke - or is he, in fact, its object?

When parody morphs into self-parody, is it still funny? Finally, are satirists obligated to stay up-to-date with the object of their derision?

Taking these questions in reverse order, the answers are “It helps,” “Somewhat” and “The joke is certainly on you.”

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