It goes without saying, but Tenacious D have never been ones for subtlety or doing things small. The musical duo of Jack Black and Kyle Gass not only continuously embody a mix of balls-out rock jams and big over-the-top nonsense humor on every one of their albums, but they also work heavily on various other media tie-ins to make their albums feel like events. The benchmark of these still remains the 2006 releases of the album The Pick of Destiny and the companion feature film of the same thing. They followed that album with 2012’s Rise of the Fenix, which was a damn fine album that continued the fusion of rock energy and crass humor, and now the boys are back with their latest studio album, Post-Apocalypto, accompanying the release with a six-episode animated web series depicting the story of the group navigating a desolate country and its various threats.
Discussing an album like this can be a bit difficult because of how much the comedy factors into the experience. Simply saying “this is funny” or “this is not funny” would seem just a tad shallow, and while I think I have some solid critical footing as far as the musical element, I feel there should be an asterisk around my discussions of its humor. I will say up front that unless you are an absolute die-hard for Tenacious D’s particular brand of raunchy, awkward, and nonsensical comedy, this album probably won’t do much for you.
For those that are like me and are a sucker for this sort of thing, what exactly does the narrative of the album entail? Well as the title implies, Jack and Kyle find themselves exploring the destroyed ruins of the United States attempting to survive whatever comes their way. Said encounters come in a variety of flavors: Amazonian tribes, helpful Terminator robots, douchey MIT scientists, Elon Musk (but I repeat myself), and even a mutated creature composed of phalluses called the Crackalacka Ding Dong.
Remember, it’s Tenacious D we’re talking here.
The comedy on the album remains in comfortably familiar territory, fueled by tons of sexual humor, gratuitous pop culture references, and the typical snappy-yet-awkward banter between Jack Black and Kyle Gass. If nothing else, the comedic chemistry between the two is still as on point as it’s ever been. Given that they’ve been doing this for well over 20 years at this point, it’s nice to see that their ability to trade awkwardly humorous dialog and quips off each other hasn’t skipped a beat. To their credit, the scenario does give them ample opportunities to do so, whether it be surviving a space station attack from outer space Jack Sparrow or having sex with an uncomfortably enthusiastic Terminator-style robot.
…Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of sexual comedy in this. Admittedly, while there’s plenty of funny gags at play across the album and show, sometimes the gags get pushed a little too far. The aforementioned Terminator sex is the prime example, as it goes from eliciting a few uncomfortable laughs at first to just plain being uncomfortable to listen to and watch. This goes double for the viewing experience, as the web series accompaniment (basically a slideshow of crudely drawn stills that are about on par with 12 oz. Mouse) showcases this scene in a very lengthy and explicit amount of detail.
However, those lesser moments of comedy duds aren’t much of an issue… at least compared to the actual music. It’s no secret that Tenacious D’s actual music is every bit as huge and in-your-face as the two personalities behind it, but you wouldn’t really know it much from listening to the album. The dramatic titular theme implies a grand overly dramatic tone to the proceedings, but so much of the music on Post-Apocalypto is, to use an all too appropriate sexual metaphor… weirdly limp. The vast majority of songs on the album are these melodramatic acoustic ballads written about whatever situation befalls them, and it leaves the momentum of things very lacking, sounding like an album of folksy tunes and church social music than a bombastic rock effort taking place in a Mad Max-style wasteland.
This flaw is emphasized somewhat further by the actual album’s structure. The record has a fairly obvious A-B-A-B sort of pattern as it alternates between the comedic narrative skits and the songs proper. The sketches are where most of the forward momentum seems to happen, making it a bit frustrating when things have to stop for another delicate acoustic ballad. This is emphasized more by the fact that the skits are actually abridged versions of what can be found in the animated web series, often stripping out some of the funnier moments of the entire ordeal. The only time when none of these issues pop up is on the track “Daddy Ding Dong,” depicting our heroes’ battle against the mutated octopus-penis monster, and this is because the track actually has energy to it. It’s easily the most classically Tenacious D song on record, having the huge-sounding hard rock energy and gnarly menacing demeanor that one would expect from the group that wrote songs like “Master Exploder.”
Overall, Post-Apocalypto is an album that feels like an odd afterthought. The musical elements get incredibly repetitive after a while, and even though the narrative and comedy elements are sound enough in spots, the record itself is like a promotional tool for the web series, rather than the two being conceived to properly work in tandem with each other. Die-hard Tenacious D fans will find plenty to keep themselves amused with this project, but everyone else would probably be better off checking out The Pick of Destiny.
Final verdict: stream it. Unless you’ve already been in it for the long haul with Tenacious D, there’s not really much here outside of some funny gags here and there.
Post-Apocalypto is available from Columbia Records on CD, vinyl, digital download, and streaming services.