Norah Jones’ album “Little Broken Hearts” is a remarkably smooth telling of angst, betrayal and murder. “Only the fallen need to rise,” Jones sings. This is an album very much about falling… not so much about rising.
The headline about Little Broken Hearts is that Jones has split from her long successful forumla and abandoned her old co-workers for uberproducer Danger Mouse. The headline is well deserved, but anyone walking into Little Broken Hearts expecting a greatest-hits sound from either will be stymied. By far, the two musicians travel beyond anything that you’ve known them for.
For Jones, there is a stunning stylistic choice to let her voice take a back seat. This sometimes is done with distortions to her trademark, but never to the point of morphing her voice into something else entirely. More interesting than the vocal distortions are the levels of her voice and where they place Jones’ vocals in the layers of each track’s sound. Clearly Jones is belting full on “Happy Pills”, yet her vocal levels are dimmed to the extent that they fall behind the instruments.
There is something quite affecting about leaning in to hear the dark lyrics told in her beautiful voice. The experience is akin to being told a campfire story by a siren. As for the departure shown by Mouse, he has had stellar fast paced albums and good slow albums, but he has never showed as deft a touch in navigating tempo as he does on Little Broken Hearts.
The “Dear John…” greeting track “Good Morning” says hello with a repetetive harp chord showing subtle signs of falling off key and tempo (intentionally) behind Jones, a soft guitar, intermittent lush bells and violins. The effect is one of utter hypnosis, certainly an admirable accomplishment for an opening track and a sign of the immaculate pacing to come.
The second to last track is a sleepy record called “Miriam”, which pairs a crawl paced tempo with Jones taking the role of a jaded lover literally draining the life life out of her competition. The instruments meet their own darkest edges on the next track, as creeping guitar slides bring your trance to it’s conclusion with “All A Dream”. Deliciously, this ending isn’t a “just kidding” track, but rather a regret laced wish for an unrealistic happy ending.
The slow motion calypso blues of “After The Fall” form one of the finest records of Jones career, and certainly this will be the benchmark for all of Danger Mouse’ future production. We have pondered whether there is subtext in the song title “After The Fall”, as “The Fall” was Norah Jones’ prior album. While the song tells of what happens after falling in love, the prior album is very much a tale of getting over love as well, and not one of “falling” in love. That’s where the similarities end. Where “The Fall” winds down with tales of Jones drinking whiskey and telling serenading her dog as the truest male she knows, “Little Broken Hearts” winds down with skitzophrenia, denial & delusions. Unless the hint here is that, after the fall, comes the bottom.
While there are few story parallels between Jones latest two albums, listening to them in conjunction is stunning in terms of absorbing how far Jones has come as a musician in 3 years… The richness and refined wildness of her new album seems like it is coming from a completely different person, certainly when compared to her breakout “Come Away With Me”. While the best selling female artist of the 00′s was no lyrical slouch, what she has going on here is leaps and bounds beyond anything we’ve ever known her for.
Anyone who has tried to follow Jones career over the past couple of years probably feels like an Andy Kaufman fan trying to chase down Tony Clifton in order to see Kaufman live. It is debatable which was more difficult- finding who you were looking for or being prepared for what you witnessed once you got there. Jones drifted though the Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi project Rome. She tackled the ultimate vocal challenge in creating a Ray Charles cover album with Wynton Marsalis & Willie Nelson.
She cranked out boot stompers as part of the rock-em-sock-em country group the Little Willies. She created fem-punk in her other group Puss ‘N Boots. And, on all of these projects, her name was written very tiny in the margins, and not by accident.
With all this covert experimentation, it should be no surprise that a new album featuring the Norah Jones brand in bold letters is such an artistic heavyhitter. Still, we have little doubt that Little Broken Hearts will surprise you.
3 Cool Facts About Norah Jones
1 Jones has been known to craft her own apparel for charity auction. (source)
2 Despite being domestically panned, “My Blueberry Nights” (starring Jones) was nominated for the Spanish Cinema Writers Circle Award for Best Foreign Film, and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. (source)
3 Jones is the estranged daughter of grammy-award winning sitar player Ravi Shankar. (source)
Little Broken Hearts by Norah Jones is available for purchase via: