Little Broken Hearts
Hard to believe it's been ten years since singer-songwriter Norah Jones first arrived on the music scene with her enormously successful debut album, "Come Away with Me." It became one of the best-selling albums of all time but it was a bit uncomfortable seeing such a shy, smart, low-key performer walking around with an armful of Grammys.
Jones has continued to make music her way, and with a variety of collaborators over the past decade, including Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Outkast, Tony Bennett and the Foo Fighters.
She engaged another former co-worker for her latest disc, "Little Broken Hearts" (Blue Note/EMI). All of the songs on her new fifth album were co-written and produced by Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton, best known for being one-half of Gnarls Barkley, and his Grey Album mash-up of the Beatles and Jay-Z.
The album kicks off appropriately with "Good Morning" a pretty ballad that eases listeners into the album like the first rays of dawn, but with lyrics about a woman throwing in her cards and leaving her disappointing lover behind.
The theme of lost love and shattered romances runs throughout the disc.
"Say Goodbye" is a trippy little number with vocals that alternate between a Blondie and an Olivia Newton-John vocals from 30 years ago, while the dark, mysterious title track evokes the feeling of a Raymond Chandler crime novel.
No where is Burton's influence more clearly felt than on "Happy Pills" with it's quirky little intro where you almost expect his Gnarls Barkley co-star Cee-Lo Green to start singing. Jones loses her cool to the extent she's able, although her "Get outs!" don't sound particularly forceful.
"She's 22" is about a woman who lost her man to a younger model, and wears her bitterness on her sleeve. Another relationship gone wrong tune, the brooding "4 Broken Hearts," with its ample guitars sounds like a Chris Isaak song about failed love, while "Travellin' On" traipses over similar terrain, assisted by mournful cello lines.
With its frequent themes of break-up and romantic loss, one can't help but compare the album to Adele's recent Grammy powerhouse, "21." While Adele's songs are angry, impassioned and explosive, Jones' approach is a more quiet resignation to her fate. While Adele seems the type to torch the guy's house, blow up his car and clear out his bank account, Jones' approach seems to be shrug, get in the car and drive as far away from the bastard as possible, as she does in the bouncy "Out on the Road," which sounds like it could be on a Shelby Lynne album.
She makes up for the lack of anger on the song, "Miriam," in which she tortures her man's secret lover before killing her or more likely, fantasizing about killing her. The cuckolded wife/girlfriend has lost her cool and is taking her murderous revenge, amidst swirling, increasingly tumultuous instrumentation.
If you don't pay much attention to the songs' lyrics, "Little Broken Hearts," would be a wonderful soundtrack to a passionate session of snuggling and lovemaking. It's only when you pay the words some heed that you realize the songs are all about love gone dangerously wrong.
Jones' appreciation for her musical collaborators is a constant and admirable trait in her work. After all, how many other performers would list all of the musicians on their disc on the front cover? Nice to see a musical superstar share the credit so comfortably and for an album all of them can be quite proud.
"Little Broken Hearts"
Blue Note / EMI
by Norah Jones