So why is Norton, a comic’s comic, bestselling author and all-around successful and busy guy, bothering to release a five-year-old stand-up set? Certainly No Baby for You! is a strong album from start to finish, consistent and assured in a way that conveys Norton’s decades of experience. But with nothing to prove and all the opportunity in the world to develop a new set, do we really need to hear his thoughts from the waning days of the previous decade?
It’s a bit of a puzzler, but it becomes clearer as Baby unfolds, showing a comedian with a gift for spinning playground-style crudity into sharp commentary and higher-minded subjects into opportunities for dick jokes. It’s also a sign that Norton is so confident in the material that he doesn’t mind it representing him in 2012, despite the fact that it was recorded in 2007. And that’s important to note, since comedy nerds reign supreme these days and each new release is met with unprecedented scrutiny.
For the most part, the jokes on Baby hold up well, even if there’s little at stake for Norton’s current career (and especially because there’s little-to-no reliance on topical humor). The more profane stuff often sounds personality-free, like some generic drive-time DJ vacillating between sexual insults and button-pushing stunts. But as with a lot of the morning-radio crew, the results can also be disarmingly funny and even occasionally subversive—provided you’re not turned off by the eager-to-please, locker-room dudeness of it all.
Norton’s gruff, Jersey-bred persona immediately goes for the throat in the first track (with a brazen sexual remark about Dakota Fanning), throwing newcomers off balance and reassuring O&A fans they’ll be getting more of the same. “Why shouldn’t I have sex with retarded girls?” he asks a couple tracks later, before turning his gaze to burn victims, who “always look like they just walked into their own surprise party.” It’s met with a lot of awkward guffaws, which turn to general laughter when he follows with, “I guess in one sense they did. It was thrown by gas and matches.”
White guilt, clueless cultural tourists and more random topics follow until, about halfway through the 26-track, 47-minute affair, he goes all in with the sex jokes. The more intimate he gets, the dirtier he gets. A couple of times the physicality and resulting silence on the album seems ill-suited for the audio-only medium (see “Spankin’ a Bitch Too Hard”) but it’s brief enough. “I really pick a lot of tough targets: invalids, retarded girls and dead babies,” Norton says with no hint or remorse. “God, what a scumbag.”
If you’re already struggling with his nasal, sandpapery delivery and relentless focus on bodily fluids, you might start to agree. But the album’s biggest weakness is its failure to build on any larger theme or point. It’s just a bunch of dirty-minded, crisply-delivered jokes about bein’ a dude and watching idiots be idiots. In that sense, the album might be best enjoyed as a series of distinct tracks, perhaps separated by commercials or other voices. You know, kind of like a radio show.
No doubt this seasoned professional has only gotten saltier in the five years since Baby was recorded, and Norton’s fans will appreciate this early holiday gift. But as the superior Please Be Offended special proved, he’s also gotten better since then.