Psycho-Killer Undertones From Norah Jones on ‘Little Broken Hearts’
Simon Marcus Gower
It is hard to believe that it has already been a decade since singer-songwriter Norah Jones first rose to prominence with her phenomenally successful (and equally over-hyped) debut album “Come Away With Me.” Now that the hype has faded, listeners would expect Jones’s fifth studio album, “Little Broken Hearts,” to emerge as a considered work from a maturing artist. But this is not the case.
While Jones’s voice is consistently beautiful, the sweetness of her delicate vocal display is lost in an album that is so full of anger and resentment about losing a love that it just becomes plain boring. It is unclear whether the theme is intended as a witty, tongue-in-cheek take on heartbreak, or whether it is a sincere cathartic display from the artist over a break-up. In any case, the vengefulness of the lyrics makes it hard to take pleasure in listening.
Much has been made of Jones teaming up with producer Brian Burton, or “Danger Mouse” as he prefers to be known. From the first track, Burton’s glum yet admittedly atmospheric arrangements come to the fore. But the impressive production values do little to lift Jones’s voice out of the depressing tone of the album.
The opening track is mesmeric, with a lazy delivery of vocals accompanied by strumming guitar. It is called “Good Morning,” though it is hardly an energizing wake-up song, bearing more resemblance to Angelo Badalamenti’s dreamy soundtrack to the David Lynch television series “Twin Peaks.”
The next track, “Say Goodbye,” sounds a little more upbeat, with syncopated rhythms and light-as-air vocals. But the topic is a downer again — it is all about breaking up. And so it goes, track after track, until things start to get nasty.
“It’s alright, it’s OK/ I don’t need you anyway,” Jones sings bitterly on “Say Goodbye,” followed by the masked rage behind lyrics like “Does she make you happy?” on “She’s 22.”
On “4 Broken Hearts,” Jones’s voice shines, but again the lyrics pull the song down. “So you tried to replace me/But you didn’t get far,” Jones sings in a way that smacks of a “get lost” attitude.
There are glimmers of hope in amongst all the gloominess. “Out on the Road” has a slightly more upbeat feel to it, with lyrics like “I’m leaving, on my way to paradise/A little voice says, ‘don’t think twice,’ ” though the little voice here is soon overpowered by voices of gloom and doom that grow ever nastier.
The vocals on “Miriam” almost sound like the rantings of a potential psycho-killer. In menacing tones we are treated to lines like “Miriam, that’s such a pretty name/And I’ll keep saying it until you die,” followed by more threatening stuff like “Now I’m not the jealous type/Never been the killing kind/But you know I know what you did.”
If we can believe that this is all being done with a dark sense of humor, then perhaps we can smile along as if it were a movie score. Ultimately, though, it amounts to a very well-crafted album that is sadly a misery to listen to.
Tongue-in-cheek or not, there is just too much negative and damaging emotion at play here. The tales of break-up, loss, bitterness and vengeance are delivered beautifully, but are all a bit heavy on the mind. This is music to bring you down, not lift you up.