It should first be said that Norah Jones is one of a kind. But it doesn’t take a genius to see that in recent years she was running the risk of becoming stagnant. Some might even say she had already arrived in that territory. Thankfully, on her latest album Little Broken Hearts she has breathed new life into her music and she had the help of super producer Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse.
Little Broken Hearts is not the first time that these two have worked together. Jones was featured on three songs from the fabulous Rome album that Danger Mouse put out last year in collaboration with Italian composer Daniele Luppi.
For a long time, throughout the release of her first three albums to be exact, Jones safely explored the jazz/crooner territory that she debuted on her first album Come Away With Me. This sound proved very successful for her, but with the release of her next two albums, 2004’s Feels Like Home and 2007’s Not Too Late, she didn’t exhibit much of a willingness to branch out stylistically. In 2009, with the release of her fourth album The Fall (QRO review), she began her trek away from crooner territory into the realm of what we hear on Little Broken Hearts. In that regard, The Fall can be classified as a sort of ‘bridge album’ from the Norah Jones of 2002-2007 to the Norah Jones of today.
That being said, Little Broken Hearts is her most daring album to date and the payoff is infinite in terms of her demonstration of true artistic abilities. In short, with this album she has proven her relevance all over again and in a totally new way. Little Broken Hearts is just another example of how much it can benefit an artist to pair up with a new collaborator. Producers like Danger Mouse have the ability and the passion to take artists into new realms that they wouldn’t have been bold enough to go into themselves. We’ve seen him do it with Gorillaz, The Black Keys and Beck, now if we could just be given access to those long-rumored Danger Mouse/U2 sessions…
One of the most interesting tracks on this album is “After the Fall”. A close look at lyrics like, “After the fall / Do you still want it all?” reveal that she is obviously examining her own life, particularly her romantic relationships, but almost appealing to listeners saying, “This is who I am now, are you willing to accept it?” It’s just one example of how Little Broken Hearts is intensely personal to her, which is one of the many things that make it a stellar album.
Another worthwhile track is the daringly titled “Happy Pills”. It is arguably the most upbeat sounding song on the album with its bouncy drumbeat and Jones’ “Na na na na” background vocal part.
It is easy to hear that Danger Mouse had a hand in making this album. His Spaghetti Western style is all over it. It’s a sound he uses quite frequently but one that is hard to tire of. The opening track does a fabulous job of capturing the essence that is the whole album with its dreamy piano in the background of a lightly strummed guitar. Jones sings, “Good morning / My thoughts on leaving / Are back on the table,” and it’s good for the listening public that she hasn’t gone anywhere.