I don’t know why I feel obligated to listen to every single Norah Jones album. She’s never put out a solo album that I’ve liked, and I’ve never come away with anything but a feeling of loss for the time I’ll never get back. Maybe it’s because I think there’s a record somewhere in her that will truly be good. Maybe it’s because I enjoy her work with The Little Willies, a much more fun country band that she’s put out a couple albums with. Or maybe it’s because I’ll never forget that she played a set on Halloween some years back with Conor Oberst and Nick Zinner, and the idea that they would jam with her makes me think that there must be something more than this that I’m missing.
It’s hard to believe it’s been over seven years, hell a decade, since Jones exploded on the scene like a sunrise on our dark December of trite pop music. With her debut album she sold more records and won more awards than anyone would have ever expected from a lounge-y piano playing singer. Inevitably, her meteoric rise started sinking soon after, and the backlash against her started. I have to admit, she handled everything really well and seemed to be at peace with her place in the music world.
As you might imagine, Jones hasn’t exactly shot the moon on her releases since then. She made a choice to go country on her next record, and I enjoyed it quite a bit more than her debut. I don’t necessarily think that Feels Like Home is a good album, but it’s leaps and bounds better than Come Away With Me. The Dolly Parton duet “Creepin’ In” is the highlight of the record. Unfortunately nothing else on that album got me feeling the same way as that single, and it never got a lot of play on my iPod.
In the years since Feels Like Home, Jones has been doing a little bit of work trying to get under the skin of people like me. She’s worked with a ton of people who I have great respect for: Belle & Sebastian, Ryan Adams, Outkast, Foo Fighters, Q-Tip, Talib Kweli-the list goes on. And don’t forget that little set that I mentioned at the top of the piece. Plus she starred in a freaking Wong Kar-Wai movie! How could someone keep getting these calls even though they put out such a bland product? Then last year she worked with Danger Mouse on the spaghetti western-tinged Rome. There’s something broken in the matrix here, and I’m determined to figure out what it is.
Sadly, Little Broken Hearts provides little in the way of answers. At the beginning of the first track, “Good Morning,” I was all set to say here we go again, more Jones blah. But there was something missing from the Jones formula. I wasn’t immediately ready to hit fast forward and get to the next boring track. There’s atmosphere to this track, and some ominous tones that remind me of Mazzy Starr in a good way. What the hell is happening?
Then, on track 2, Norah Jones does something insane-she plays a funky electro-pop tune that would make Annie Clark cry. So now I’m thinking: “Ok. I’ve becomes stuck in some kind of interdimensional doorway where everything is backwards. Any second now Justin Vernon is gonna walk around the corner and we’re going to have a pleasant conversation.” Only that didn’t happen. What did happen is my train stopped and I got off one flight down from the terminal, just like I always do. This is reality, and I can’t believe it.
Luckily, pretty much everything after those two songs gets back to the Norah Jones we know and tolerate. A couple of the songs really are well-written, but for the most part Little Broken Hearts sounds more like a Chrissie Hynde solo project than an album by “an Alicia Keys for grownups” (allmusic review). The best part of the album has very little to do with the songs that are here, but the attitude Jones displays. She’s taking chances here that I never figured she’d gamble on. I keep waiting for her to knock my socks off and reveal my toes, but it hasn’t happened yet.
This would be a hard recommend even for Jones fans, though I wish I could. It’s so wildly different than her previous solo records that I’m not sure the people that listened to Come Away With Me would really enjoy this album. In fact, I’d be willing to wager that they would not. It’s closer in tone to Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell’s work, which I adore. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite up to par with their albums. Still, just for those first two songs, I’d definitely tell those interested that it’s worth checking out.
Best three songs: “Good Morning” “Say Goodbye” and “Miriam”