Little Broken Hearts by Norah Jones
Those less familiar with Norah Jones might think she has some identity issues. She’s done jazz, folk, blues and/or whatever contemporary jazz is supposed to be, all while pushing out soothing albums at a pace that could make her seem like the next Enya. In truth, she is a musician and, thus, constantly evolving. Her latest effort, Little Broken Hearts, is a sob story of the hipster kind with a sound and polish that demonstrates what Lana Del Rey is trying to master.
With the help of DJ auteur Danger Mouse, the album grooves in a way reminiscent of the experimental style of Gnarls Barkley but fitted to Jones’ laidback sound. Danger Mouse did what he does best: take a talented artist and marry them with enough funk and soul to make the product sound timeless. Though, ultimately, the album is not really sure what it wants to be, but after hearing the lazy Western guitar and Jones’ whispery alto in "Good Morning," you get a feeling that this is going to be a very good ride.
The collaboration results in a soundtrack to western film and a psychedelic road trip.
On the Western front, Jones’ album is filled with lazy desert songs like "Little Broken Hearts," "Take It Back," "4 Broken Hearts," and "Out On the Road," each reminiscent of Chris Issac at his peak. It is country with swagger that has a tragic beauty when set against Jones’ restrained vocals, the slide guitar and guitar reverb, the tambourines, and the lethargic drumming and heartbroken lyrics.
Danger Mouse convinced Jones to try some funk and reggae with more failure than success. "The Fall" and a depressingly slow "All A Dream" both contain melodies without much thought to the background. They are also way to slow. This is, after all, Norah Jones, and slow is something we have heard before. "Say Goodbye," on the other hand, has the trademark Danger Mouse soul and an even sassier Norah Jones teasing her ex-lover and dumping him again. Jones’ roots in jazz and blues bring the syncopation and attitude of a vixen and the addition of something more up-tempo help the album gain a more youthful feel.
Luckily, two mid-tempo gems "Out on the Road" and rock-infused "Happy Pills" are placed at the later end of the album and cement this album as an Indie experiment. "Happy Pills" even treats the listener to a mezzo-forte belt from Norah Jones and a cheesy but catchy “Nah na-na nah”, which is out of character for Jones but oh-so-right for the song.
Finally the penultimate Miriam is by far the best foray into the Indie unknown. High strings and guitars play arpeggi against the bar-length strokes of lower strings while building from the most timid of pianos to a confident mezzo forte. Along the way, piano strokes, drums, electric guitar create a wall of sound for Jones to weave her whispery alto and new belt to lyrics that taunt Miriam for all wrong that she has done. It is a last walk before the end as Jones’ sings, “You know you done me wrong. I'm gonna smile when I take your life”.
Little Broken Hearts is sad, but Jones finds a way to make the narrators of each song take control of the situation, which makes her sound even more powerful than she has in the past. Thus, these hearts are getting broken in all the right ways and, hopefully, she and Danger Mouse will reunite and break some in the future.