A decade ago, Norah Jones seduced her way into our hearts with the jazz-inflected Come Away With Me. The album sold a bajillion copies and won a bajillion Grammys, and represented something different from the mainstream. Coming during a time when Britney and Christina were still all the rage, Norah was the same age as those ladies, yet nothing like them musically. While your local record store (those existed back then) probably placed Norah in the “jazz” section, I see her more as the noble beginning of a course that has since been followed by the likes of Michael Buble.
Here we are in 2012, and that girl who made the little jazz album that could has turned out to be much more divergent stylistically than one would have thought upon listening to Come Away With Me. In the last decade, Norah has collaborated with everyone from Ray Charles to Willie Nelson to Andre 3000, and has sounded equally at home delivering seductive standards as she has turning up the twang or crooning to hip-hop’s boom bap. Her latest album, Little Broken Hearts, is her fifth, and finds her collaborating with award-winning producer Danger Mouse, who Norah Jones fans most likely know best as 1/2 of Gnarls Barkley (you know, that group with the “Eff You” guy from The Voice.)
Little Broken Hearts pretty much sounds exactly like you would expect a Norah/Danger Mouse collaboration to sound like. Norah’s vocals continue to walk that odd space between phenomenally sexy and phenomenally sleepy, and Danger Mouse’s soundscapes are typically hazy. There are a lot of spaghetti Western-style guitars, a lot of ominous/mysterious sounding keyboards, and Norah’s voice is often swathed in echo or reverb.
The lyrics are definitely not upbeat. As you might infer from the album’s title, Little Broken Hearts is a song cycle that focuses largely on the end of a relationship, whether Norah is packing her shit and peace-ing out on the country-inflected “Out On The Road” or breaking hearts with the coquettish kiss-off “Say Goodbye.” It’s definitely an album you wanna listen to when you’re in one of those moods. If not, there’s a good chance that by the end of it, you will be in one of those moods, in which case, lovers beware!
I will admit that despite being a fan of both Danger Mouse and Norah individually, parts of Little Broken Hearts tend to drag for me, especially towards the end. After the single “Happy Pills,” which appears 3/4 of the way into the album, it’s straight downhill. Upon listening, I can’t help but think “hey, I liked this album better last year when James Mercer sang on it and it was called Broken Bells.” With that said, it took me months to warm to that particular album, and seeing as Norah’s music has a way of sneaking up on you after a period of time, I wouldn’t be surprised if six months from now I suddenly decide that I’m in love with this album.
For now, I’ll say that if you’re in love with Danger Mouse productions, you probably won’t be disappointed. If you’re a fan of the lighter side of Norah Jones, you might be in for a surprise with this one, as it’s certainly her darkest lyrical work to date. I don’t think any babies are gonna be made off of Little Broken Hearts. As for me, I don’t regret my purchase, and I’m open-minded enough to say that my mind might change with more listens. I’m just not sure how much I’ll feel it necessary to listen in the immediate future.