Cho Dependent is comedian Margaret Cho’s first stab at making a music album, and she goes big. Her vocational stature gives her friends in high places, many of whom musically collaborate with her here. The guest list includes Ben Lee, Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple, Grant-Lee Phillips, Andrew Bird, Jon Brion, Garrison Starr, Brendon Benson, Tegan and Sara, and Tommy Chong. Wow, what a party. The album sounds good, too. It’s stretched out stylistically speaking, and the musical pastiches and approximations are, for the most part, not bad at all. Cho Dependent‘s main problem is that it’s just not very funny. It’s not that the jokes are offensive or in poor taste. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes listening to Cho’s standup routines should be desensitized to her fowl mouth already. The material is just weak. Many of the song’s punch lines come at you like a big rig with its brights on, robbing them of subtlety. And this lack of subtlety reduces the number of genuine laughs, displaying everything as an exhibition of someone’s distantly telegraphed idea of “funny.”
The first song gives lots of this away. It’s called “Intervention”, and it’s about, you guessed it, someone’s intervention. There is no stinging quip, no sardonic twist, nothing beyond our-friend-is-a-junkie-and-we-need-to-stop-her. Backed by Tegan and Sara and laying out all the girlie-indie cards on the table, it sounds like it was a struggle to write: “Welcome to your intervention / We need some of your attention / You’ve got a problem we must mention / We’re not going to put you in detention.” The second song, “Calling in Stoned”, deals with, ta-dah, drugs again. “I’m so high, it’s like, ‘how’s the weather?’” goes the first pre-chorus, and you can’t help but think that lines like this would be greeted with silence during a stand up performance.
“Your Dick”, Cho’s chance to wax phallic in a Motown waltz, comes at an awkward cross path where the music sounds immaculately executed while Cho is just doing her best to be crass: “Friends to the end / or a friend in my end.” “Gimme Your Seed” is a pretty convincing Madonna impression, despite the distracting fact that it’s driving a one-note gag (procuring sperm) into the ground for over three minutes. At least “My Puss” aesthetically matches its title; the hip-hop trash talking of two lady emcees trying to one-up their neighbor in the vaginal department.
And while most of the songs have painfully obvious stabs at humor, some of the songs almost seem completely devoid of it. “Captain Cameltoe”, which doesn’t really have anything going for it musically, feels like Cho’s excuse to say the word “Cameltoe” more than once. And outside of the refrain “I’m a freaking rockstar superhero bitch,” I can’t tell where the humor is supposed to reside. Whoever produced “Asian Adjacent” did an excellent job at mimicking David Bowie’s “China Girl”, but Margaret’s tale of meeting someone and not being able to determine what minority they are makes you wonder if there is any joke to be had at all.
One song that oddly doesn’t sound like a joke is “Hey Big Dog”. A dog (Apple) and its owner (Cho) are having conversations about their troubled nature. The owner wonders why the dog howls at the moon and is frightened of the wind. The dog wonders why the owner is letting herself be courted by an unkind man. The closest this alt-folk number comes to edgy comedy is “‘Don’t pee on the rug’ / ‘Then don’t do drugs.’” Everything else about it is sad and lonesome, not unlike the life of a solitary dog owner who is confused about love. It’s hard to believe this song shares a home with “My Puss”.
Cho Dependent sounds quite good, but it’s hard to imagine Cho’s fans will pony up the money to hear some really fantastic backing tracks. They want to hear here sing and make jokes. Can she sing? Oh, yeah. Her singing is quite impressive, and I guess it’s hard to believe she hasn’t flaunted this gift before. Her two-syllable sigh of the word “dick” shows that Cho has probably spent her whole life singing doo-wop in the shower. And her proclamation of “we don’t need you” to sperm donors sounds like Cho also spent many an hour singing Madonna in front of the vanity mirror. But the quality of her singing is not the point here; it’s the quality of the jokes. They are flat, and that’s a shortcoming that comedians aren’t supposed to have.