Sunday, May 6, 2012


Is there a straight-ahead normal Norah Jones piano on this disc?  Not that I can remember.  From first listen to at least the tenth, where I'm at now, the surprise of just how different this is continues.  Produced by Danger Mouse, and co-written by him, this is pretty much a completely new sound for Jones, and I'm liking it.  But don't think she's copping anyone else's grooves here; it's a whole new stew, parts funky, chilled and sultry.

Jones has been chomping at the bit to break out of her piano-lite jazz image, long hung-over from her improbably popular debut.  Forays into country, secret sidebands where she got to rock out on guitar, and her secondary group The Little Willies haven't really done the trick, but this will.  That is, if it finds an audience.  It might have to be a new one, given the radical makeover.  Big, echo-y bass, great twangy reverb'ed guitar, clip-clops of rhythm, burbling synths, empty spaces and sombre atmospheres mark many of the songs.  Intimate vocals over the sparse arrangements make it even more ghostly, and Jones sounds a lot more like Neko Case than her old self.

It's also a devastating break-up album.  Now, I haven't read too much about her life, but I know she went through one awhile back, so she's got some knowledge on the subject, but I'm betting there are a lot of characters informing the little broken hearts here.  Emotions to the fore, there are several different reactions to a split found here, although a cheating seemed to happen in most of them.  Revenge, jealousy, hurt, victimization, and lots of anger abound.  Some sounds are about escape and enjoying it; others about wishing to dump the heartbreak, but the guy won't leave her (their) heart.  Most shocking is Miriam, the name of the girl who was the third party, who our narrator admits has such a pretty name, but that she is plotting to kill.  It's virtually a murder ballad.

The album is intense but beautiful, with the rich sounds and big echo such a cool production.  There are a couple of up-tempo ones later on, Out On The Road and Happy Pills, which spice up the flow, but also fit into the song-cycle of leaving a lover.  The highs and the lows of the break-up, they are all here, and it's quite a remarkable disc.

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