Review: Norah Jones ‘…Little Broken Hearts’

Release date: May 1, 2012.
Rating: 4/5

Jazz singer and noted dinner-party music warbler Norah Jones started her career making the kind of music that sounds amazing being played in the background of any given pleasant moment. Her music tends to sound as if some ethereal music supervisor in a cloud somewhere is having you star in your very own montage music. There you are walking on a beach with a loved one. There you are sipping a warm cup of coffee next to a golden retriever. Oh look, there’s you putting on a comfortable grey sweater. Norah’s music has never been, shall we say, hyperbolic.

“…Little Broken Hearts” starts off as plaintive as an album could ever possibly start – the opening track “Good Morning” appears to be an almost deliberate attempt to lull the listener into accepting the slightly colder and more detached side of her personality that becomes more present later on in the album. Throughout her career she has made rather… well… hug-inducing sounding music, shall we say, so this deliberate attempt to suddenly cast her as a film-noir Francoise Hardy really pulls you in. The major difference here is her production partner: hip-hop / mash-up veteran Danger Mouse, with whom Norah had previously worked with on their ‘Rome’ project, released early last year. His fingerprints are all over “…Little Broken Hearts” just as on 2009’s “The Fall” album you could tell rocker Ryan Adams had a hand in it (he co-wrote lead single “Chasing Pirates”). Danger Mouse eschews the swagger of “The Fall”‘s production in favor of a much more headphone-orientated sound.

On the raw center of the album, “She’s 22,” Norah exhibits an almost chilling vocal take that makes the often overused refrain of “does she make you happy?” into a weapon of sorts that will burrow its way into your head well after the album finishes.

Indeed, the whole 45 minutes of “…Little Broken Hearts” comes across not entirely unlike an audio accompaniment to the 2009 movie Blue Valentine with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in that it is brutally raw and emotional at the core yet presents it very neatly; in the hands of a less skilled singer, this album would be caterwaul after caterwaul of overly emoted shoutfests.

There are some magnificent highs on “…Little Broken Hearts” (mid-album affair “Happy Pills” and the preceding track “Out On The Road” inject some much needed whimsical melody – a Norah speciality – into the proceedings) yet this album is truly a study in sadness and loss. The cover shows Norah looking entirely vixenesque which does, admittedly, seem to make the listener invest into Norah’s (I’m not made of stone, people) (full disclosure: omgggg <3333 u Norah) moon-eyed image. The album won't connect on a mass scale in the same way her megasmash 2002's "Come Away With Me" did – there simply isn't a song on here that pulls you in the same way "Don't Know Why" or even 2009's "Chasing Pirates" did. It is, however, a fantastic break-up album on par with Beck's "Sea Change" – an amazing piece of work that will appreciate over time. Norah's middle-aged fanbase who have carried over from her dinner-jazz album origins will likely balk at the spy-guitar and parsed down production of "... Little Broken Hearts" yet their loss might be an entirely new fanbase's gain.