Winning six Grammys last year has apparently cemented Adele’s place amongst the superstars, but it’s easy to forget that Norah Jones won EIGHT of the things a decade ago, and she’s never scaled those heights since. However, her new album is getting her noticed again…
The problem for Jones in following up her smash-hit debut Come Away With Me was that while its mellow soulful brilliance resonated with lots of people, she wasn’t tabloid enough to keep her name in the papers, so each lovely new album was met with increasing indifference from a media more typically cynical about ‘easy listening’ music.
A better way to attract their attention is to hook up with a big-name, red-hot producer, and that’s what she’s done this time, with Danger Mouse taking charge for Little Broken Hearts. And it’s worked, because she’s got very positive reviews and a lot of coverage, but is it a case of selling out?
Not a bit of it. While the funky design of the front cover (based on a poster for the Russ Meyer film Mudhoney) shows a totally different side of Norah Jones to that of Come Away With Me, and while the music leans further towards indie pop than smooth jazz, it’s merely the continuation of a journey that she’s been on ever since walking off with those Grammys.
Unlike, say, Diana Krall, Jones has never sat comfortably in the pigeonhole of easy listening, and her last album The Fall was a big step towards this Little Broken Hearts, with collaborations with talented musicians from across the spectrum, while she appeared on Danger Mouse’s album Rome last year, along with Jack White.
Earlier this year she released another album with unfortuantely-named old-timey country covers band The Little Willies, while as far back as 2003 she was straying into hip-hop with a guest appearance on OutKast albums. So this new album and its producer aren’t a sign of a fading former young hopeful making one last grab for the big time, it’s a talented and versatile artist developing her craft.
And it works so very well. Danger Mouse’s production is perfectly suited to the songs (which he co-wrote with her) and to her voice, which has always been a remarkable instrument on its own. An early highlight is the light and airy Say Goodbye, which is incredibly catchy and fun, even if the lyrics make it seem anything but.
That same slightly curious blend works on first single Happy Pills too, and Jones sings there about a break-up like it’s the best thing to have happened to her. That sense of freedom and adventure sums up the album very well actually, and another track that stands out is Take It Back, possibly one of the best songs she’s released so far.
If there’s a criticism to be had, it’s that Little Broken Hearts maybe suffers from a few too many songs not quite having that same impact, but it’s still a long way from ‘dinner party background music’, which is what many people would tag Norah Jones as making. If it was ever true, it certainly isn’t anymore.
While her transformation into this kind of artist may have been more gradual than it might seem, there’s no denying that it’s a very timely one. Those who felt betrayed and alienated when Lana Del Rey turned out to be not quite what they had hoped for could do a lot worse than giving Jones a chance. She’s very real and this is a very good album.