When Jimmy Fallon's first comedy album, The Bathroom Wall, was released back in 2002, it felt like a perfect extension of the comedian himself at the time: goofy, trying too hard and not very funny, but not without its charms -- if nothing else, the album (and Fallon) wanted so badly to be liked that it was difficult not to warm to it just a little.
It's been 10 years since The Bathroom Wall, and Fallon's career has changed completely in the decade since. He took over Late Night at NBC and recreated himself, gaining critical respect and a cult audience in the process. His talk show has created a brand for itself, using social media, new technology and viral video in a way that no other show has really been able to capitalize on -- it speaks to young people better than its late night brethren and, in that way, actually feels relevant amidst a format that's past its prime.
A lot of what Fallon's Late Night does right is on display on Fallon's second and newest album, Blow Your Pants Off. It's actually a little strange that Blow Your Pants Off is credited to just Jimmy Fallon, since what it actually is is Late Night with Jimmy Fallon: The Album. It's a collection of songs and bits that have been performed on the show in recent years, including "Slow Jammin' the News with Brian Williams, one of the signature bits on the show. Stephen Colbert shows up for a guest appearance singing Rebecca Black's viral hit "Friday." Fallon duets as Neil Young with Bruce Springsteen on "Whip My Hair," originally sung by Will Smith's daughter, Willow. Justin Timberlake performs "History of Rap," essentially a medley of dozens of hit rap songs of the last 40 years. There are song parodies about quarterback Tim Tebow (performed by Fallon as the David Bowie tribute "Tebowie") and New York Knicks player Jeremy Lin. All of the parodies are spot on, too; Fallon is a gifted mimic, not just in terms of imitating other singers' voices, but also in breaking down their musical styles and creating something new that sounds just like what they're imitating. As musical parodies go, the songs on Blow Your Pants Off are pretty good.
The trouble is that they're dated before the album even comes out. When Fallon performs "Friday" or performs as "Tebowie" on Late Night, it's because those things are part of the pop culture conversation that week. That's the nature of a late night talk show -- to take topical things and spin them into humor. The references don't really stand the test of time, so while in five years we can still be laughing at just how good a Neil Young impression Fallon does, we won't remember why it's funny that he's singing "Whip My Hair," mostly because no one will still remember "Whip My Hair." Pop culture moves too quickly these days, and internet culture even faster. The musical bits they do on Late Night (which really has turned into the funniest and coolest of the talk shows) are meant to be talked about at work the next day, not released as an album and preserved for all time. Comedy albums should really be timeless. Blow Your Pants Off has a shelf life, and it could be argued that it's already expired.
There's still a lot to like about Blow Your Pants Off, and it represents a vast improvement over The Bathroom Wall. I guess Fallon needs a support system behind him, because it's a funnier, more confident record. It just should have been called Music from Late Night or something, because at least then the audience would know what they're buying.
- Album Release Date: 6/12/12
- Label: Warner Bros.