Cheech & Chong have made a great career out of hilarious drug-fueled comedy. However their "comeback" release to coincide with their their new animated film shows that the best of their more complex comedy may well be behind them.
In a 1997 episode of Nash Bridges, starring Don Johnson and Cheech Marin, the latter's former comedy partner Tommy Chong guest starred and asked Cheech's character, “What's your drug of choice now, man?” The now-balding Cheech gave the now-grey Chong a serious look and responded “Uh, Rogaine.” It was a subtle and appropriately funny jab at the duo's aging and their former career.
Since rising to the national scene in 1971 with their first album and hitting movie theaters in 1978 with their first film Up In Smoke, Richard “Cheech” Marin and Thomas Chong have enjoyed quite a career based on their free-love and counter-culture stage personas, all with an underpinning of their love for marijuana and other drugs.
The keyword here is “underpinning”. Cheech & Chong's humor was always based on two funny guys who were often stoned, doing funny things. The drug use was always present and amplified the comedy... but the simple act of smoking weed or saying the word “Marijuana” was never inherently funny in and of itself. If the soundtrack to Cheech & Chong's Animated Movie! is anything to go by, the duo and the team surrounding them is hoping that has changed.
Notably the album was released on April 20 (“420” being a slang code for the consumption of reefer), so it's hardly surprising that out of the twelve songs on the album, nine of them are overtly about drugs, with six of them featuring some variation on cannabis in the song title. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself if the songs were as multi-layered and funny as the skits and tracks Cheech & Chong produced in their heyday. Sadly, none of these songs really capture the comedy Tommy and Marin are known for and instead revolve around simply saying how much they love drugs, often while amplifying their own racial stereotypes (Cheech making spanglish jokes and Chong referring to his “Chinese eyes”).
The opening track, simply entitled “Marijuana”, contains the “challenging” lyrics, “I'm in love with Marijuana, Makes me feel just like an iguana.” This sets the stage for the type of comedy found on the rest of the album. The second track “Smoke a Doobie Time” attempts to meld the chronic duo's old school pothead hipness with today's more modern terms. The song is something of a lexicon of pot synonyms... and little more. This attempt to “modernize” their classic bits continues in such songs as “Medical Marijuana Blues” (where they evoke the name of Dr. Dre, amongst others) and “Pretty Boy Alice”, which updates the saga of the “orange haired” rock star from the classic “Earache My Eye”.
The fifth track, “Cheech and Chong Anthem (WEed are the World)”, brings this trend to its next level, becoming a career retrospective, at least of their classic bits. “Pedro de Pacas and Man”, “Born in East L.A.”, “Big Bambu”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Let's Make a Dope Deal”, “Dave's Not Here” and “Ralph and Herbie” are all mentioned in the lyrics. This is undeniably fun for fans, but the song becomes overly trite when it devolves into a challenge to see how many terms the writers (Cheech, Chong and co-producer Dominic Kelly) can rhyme with the names “Cheech and Chong”. “Still smokin' strong”, “Party all night long”, “From L.A. to Hong Kong”, “Rock it all night long” and “Can't we all just get a BONG?” all make their appearances.
To be fair, there are some pretty good guitar leads from both Kelly and Tony Gary thrown into the mainly hip hop-oriented mix. At worst the songs are still “kind of funny” with a lot of dumbed-down comedy and occasional threads of cleverness. The problem here is that we're not talking about a couple of amateurs who make comedy simply by mentioning drugs. Cheech and Chong attempting to get a laugh from merely the word “Marijuana” is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer turning to the camera and saying “Demon” and expecting uproarious guffaws. That's just not enough.
At the time of this CD's formation, it must have seemed like a good idea to add the hilarious classic-era song “Earache My Eye” to the mix. After all the movie itself is largely a collection of classic Cheech and Chong skits set to new animation. However, this great and hilarious song is carelessly thrown in, in an un-remastered mono form, making even its inclusion a let down from the new highly produced, stereo tracks. “Earache My Eye” still remains the best song on the album and that amplifies what is really wrong with this soundtrack album. Cheech and Chong are still talented guys with a career to show for it, but reaching back to their old personas (past the “Rogaine” days and into the hashish) could have been done with a lot more grace and comedy.