Music

Norah Jones: Little Broken Hearts

Norah Jones' latest studio album sees her jumping off some small metaphorical cliffs, which is pretty significant... for her.


Norah Jones

Little Broken Hearts

Label: Blue Note
US Release Date: 2012-05-01
UK Release Date: 2012-04-30
Amazon
iTunes

When Norah Jones was first unleashed onto the world, we were given every indication that her career would take a similar path of so many other “lite” female singer/songwriters (i.e. Sarah McLachlan, Jewel, and Tori Amos). Right from the get-go Jones was a smooth jazzy scene-stealer, musing through oversimplified sentiments of lovelorn and seemingly bad decisions that she really didn’t regret (as is the case in “Don’t Know Why” from her album Come Away with Me). She attempted to duplicate the success of her major label debut with an equally nauseating album filled with songs about sunshine and smiles. Many relegated her to typical Lilith Fair fare, possessing great talent, but never singing anything worth significance and never chancing her characteristic style with obscure production risks. Almost everything sounded live-to-tape with a boringly assembled band: Jones on piano, with one bassist, a couple of guitarists, someone on drums and the occasional backup vocal. Nice and simple and safe.

It wasn’t until 2009’s The Fall that Ms. Jones decided to step out of her comfort zone, collaborating with a variety of harder-edged musicians and stepping out of her all-too-familiar jazz pop style. Jones was beginning to declare herself not simply a “jazz artist”, but an “artist”. This trend to steer herself wherever her heart may take her and leaving behind the confessional singer/songwriter trope, has continued in her fifth album Little Broken Hearts. Collaborated and produced with Brian Burton (known to you as Danger Mouse), Little Broken Hearts is a stylistic and intriguing entry into this talented singer’s catalogue, one that hopefully paves a direction rather than merely being a benchmark in her short but impressive career. Perhaps the reason why Little Broken Hearts is the least like a typical Norah Jones album has something to do with the auspicious nature of the album’s inception. Instead of coming to the recording sessions with completed songs and full band arrangements ready, Jones and Burton reportedly collaborated on a number of tracks building them from the ground up as they were being recorded.

Little Broken Hearts begins at the beginning. “Good Morning” is a beautiful album opener, atmospheric enough that as the opening guitars begin to flutter you can picture a slow sunrise shining through a kitchen window as the narrator in the song (who has been up all night) waits for her lover to return from his overnight escapades. Resolving herself to finally leave him, “Good Morning” sets a precise and eerie tone to the remainder of the album, which doesn’t necessarily follow any kind of linear narrative. Rather, it is a culmination of similarly themed songs tied together by the complexities and contradictory emotions that arise in the wake of a broken heart, or conversely, breaking someone’s heart.

Jones is smart enough not to re-name her collaboration with Burton as non-reflective of her characteristic style (see, for instance, Broken Bells). Because for all of Little Broken Hearts’ attempt to catapult Norah from her comfort zone, there is no denying that it is still, very much a Norah Jones album. Her PR management likes to think that the variance on Heart is so extreme that they can justifiably refer to the track “Say Goodbye” as "high-energy". It might be "high-energy" for Ms. Jones, but not to the rest of the world. In fact, for all the chances that Jones takes on this album, they all still remain within her own abilities to take those chances so far. Never once does she break the 90 bpm time scale, nor does she really rock out on songs that might have given naysayers pause otherwise. It’s admirable that she is pushing her own already tight boundaries, but comparatively speaking, there is nothing on Little Broken Hearts that would suggest a brave departure from an already tried and true style. She isn’t pulling a Kid A here.

This lack of true ingenuity on Jones’ part isn’t necessarily a bad thing. She is pushing the self-constructed limitations of her style, which she molded years ago, and though this may be enough to keep loyal fans interested in her, it will surely do nothing to generate or convert those who are familiar with Jones and have already dismissed her. These “non-believers” if you will, know that there really isn’t that much that is new here. It takes a special kind of artist to pull off a varied album that transcends an artist's own style in enough of a way to draw in those that aren’t currently listening (see Beck’s Sea Change or Goldfrapp’s Seventh Tree).

Regardless of this non-conversion however, Little Broken Hearts is a stand-out in Jones’ limited repertoire. Tracks like “Say Goodbye” (although it’s not as high-energy as her PR team would like to think it is), “Happy Pills”, and “Out on the Road” showcase what Jones can do when she’s pushed slightly to think outside her tiny box, while tracks like “Good Morning”, “Take it Back” and “Travelin’ On” are some of the finest Norah Jones songs that stick to the jazz/pop trope she’s carved out for herself. The album as a whole is best digested in one sitting. Jones has always been masterful at lyrical content and subdued vocal delivery and there is plenty of that here. However, instead of picking apart the tracks that work best, the entire album plays like a cohesive whole, somehow frayed and fragmented if not left intact.

7

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image