Norah Jones is perfect. I have made no secret of this belief. She’s from Texas. She’s a jazz singer. She collaborates with plenty of badass artists, like the Foo Fighters and Ray Charles and the Lonely Island. She sounds like Starbucks, so I associate her with my beloved coffee. She is the polar opposite of unattractive.
This is going to be one of those reviews where my judgment is clouded.
If you listened to Danger Mouse’s Jones/Jack White assisted spaghetti western project, Rome, you have a good idea of the stylistic depth Norah is capable of. In fact, a good chunk of her latest, Little Broken Hearts, could easily blend in with Rome. Did I mention that Danger Mouse produced Hearts? Because that’s relevant. The album is a little darker than your standard issue Come Away With Me, but the lovely Ms. Jones has been moving further away from that sound for some time.
Simply put, sultry is the name of the game. Little Broken Hearts could be the soundtrack to a Rita Hayworth movie full of smoky cafes and warm pistols. Everything seems old and new all at the same time, which is Jones’ bread and butter. Here, though, there is a serrated edge that was not present in her earlier efforts.
From opening track “Good Morning,” it’s immediately clear that this album is less Mom’s Favorite Gal Pal Norah Jones and more Smoky Sophisticate Who Drinks Gin Norah Jones. It is etherial and narcotic, a hazy and delicate dream of falling and perhaps not waking up. The song “Little Broken Hearts” is distant and eerie, a sad-eyed tale of lost souls making things alright through the effective use of knives and death wishes. It’s Sylvia Plath by way of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
“She’s 22” is devastatingly, passionately heart-wrenching, an aching song of resignation and lost love, which poignant lyrics in every line: “Your flowers grow in the frozen snow/And I’d like to know if it’s all a show/Cause you sure look happy.”
It’s not until “4 Broken Hearts” that I made a stylistic connection to this blog’s favorite recording industry sales algorithm, Lana Del Rey. The consciously retro, orchestrally sumptuous sound that Lanabot peddles will hardly satisfy (in whatever way it did to begin with) after listening to Little Broken Hearts. The strings on “Travelin’ On” strike a nail in that particular plump-lipped coffin. Norah’s ever-present country tinge certainly adds a richer texture as well: “Out On The Road” rubs against every Steinbeck fantasy I’ve ever had in a tremendous way.
Much like Batman needs Robin, the album needs a brighter spot, which happens to be “Happy Pills.” Is it still about heartbreak? Yes, but it’s also bouncy and bright.
“Miriam,” on the other hand, is just a song about Norah Jones killing a lady. Because that is what this song is about. Norah Jones murdering a homewrecking lady rival and taunting her about her beautiful name before she offs her. It’s “Jolene” on crack, perhaps without as strong of a driving melody, but perhaps even more haunting.
(And normally, I don’t address this, but: that is a heck of an album cover. I want it framed. I’m probably just going to frame it, actually.)
It’s deeply satisfying to hear an album where the artist knows exactly what they’re doing. There’s no second guessing on Little Broken Hearts. Let Norah break your heart.
(1) “Good Morning”
(3) “Little Broken Hearts”
(4) “She’s 22”
(6) “After the Fall”
(7) “4 Broken Hearts”
(8) “Travelin’ On”
Or, just listen to the whole thing.