Album Review: Norah Jones ‘Little Broken Hearts’
‘Good Morning’ is the perfect forward for an album about a breakup. The pain of lost love is strongly felt as Norah sings of giving in, giving up, and moving on with her life. It’s a quick and gentle coo of resignation, and if the rest of the album had a similar perspective on breakups, it may be perfect.
From there she gets a little more playful, and though the tone is different, the tale of ‘Say Goodbye’ is exactly the same. However, her attitude about it changes sharply, into a mess of emotions and a strong sense of bitterness. This is how things remain for the rest of Little Broken Hearts. As much as she might insist that she is moving on, the stain of regret, and even a tinge of venom in her voice, suggest that she really doesn’t want to. The album sticks with this outlook the whole way through.
Norah Jones has deserved her identity as something of an old soul, wise beyond her years–though she is now 33–and musically very mature, but Little Broken Hearts has an awkward demeanor of emotional immaturity. It has the feeling of a record written directly to an ex-lover, as if in an attempt to continue a long lost argument, to simultaneously defeat them and win them back. “You always liked my songs,” she sings, and she litters the album with not-so-subtle jabs and tests like, “Does she make you happy?” and, “You tried to replace me, but you didn’t get far.”
But maybe that’s the point. She says it’s not entirely a true story, but that it was inspired by a real breakup, and the phases one goes through during such a difficult transition. It’s not entirely clear how much of this is fiction or whether Norah has worked through that process yet, but there is really only one phase being showcased on this recording, which is an almost vengeful denial
This is a new kind of Norah Jones album in a couple of ways. First, because she’s never really gone to very dark places with love. Second, her sound is refocused on a new style which slips quietly away from her jazz roots. The music is fresh, staying true to Norah and her strengths, but with a more current approach and less of the sometimes hokey production of her past work. She collaborated with Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells) and they appear to have found a great synergy between their styles.
The beautiful thing about the song ‘Little Broken Hearts’ is that it’s not quite as in-your-face direct with the subject matter, and though it’s the very same story told on every track, the imagery is more powerful when it’s a little less specific, allowing one to feel a part of that emotional landscape without necessarily being indoctrinated to Norah’s perspective on the affair. Which is to say, it’s less whiney.
‘Out On the Road’ seems, as the album’s ninth track, like it may finally be that much needed song about getting over her loss, but while she sings about finding direction and driving off to paradise, she slips in, “Guess I’ll have to love you from afar.”
If ‘Good Morning’ were the last song on the tracklist, instead of the first, it would have given the album a flawlessly heart-wrenching conclusion, not ignoring the pain and regret, but looking forward and really moving on. Instead, the album feels almost uncomfortably stubborn, and often a little catty.
There is much to be said though for just how open and vulnerable Norah makes herself with the predominantly very straightforward offerings on this album. Certainly, if you’re going through anything similar to this yourself, or if you want to dwell a bit in older pain, Little Broken Hearts is a companion for brooding equal to a bottle of bourbon and an old photo album.