Review Summary: A game-changer, Little Broken Hearts sees Norah Jones exploring new horizons with fantastic results.
Despite being considered one of America's most endearing singers in recent memory, Norah Jones' first 3 albums were the equivalent of being a "typecast" actor. Take somebody like Jason Statham, for example; once he became an established action actor, that seemed to be the only genre he was working with, with the Transporter series, The Bank Job, and such. Once Jones created her special fusion of pop, smooth jazz, and folk, which wowed people in the early 2000's, Norah Jones became trapped within her genre for the next two records; only a few variations here and there were applied to her tried-and-true formula.
That's why it was a refreshing surprise when her fourth album The Fall came out, as it blended previous influences with a strong electric property; a much more hard rock-oriented sound was incorporated, and it was quite a shock to hear Jones switch so suddenly. This brings us to 2012's Little Broken Hearts, which was produced by prominent songwriter/musician Danger Mouse. How does the record compare, though, to Jones' previous efforts?
As with the previous album, Little Broken Hearts is another big twist, actually sounding nearly nothing like Jones' original sound that made her so popular. However, this helps more than it hurts; what we get is a more indie-based pop/rock album with folk elements and a strong sense of atmosphere to help what the music and lyrics are trying to achieve. The album is relatively short, but that's a good thing here because any dragging feeling is reduced greatly.
Danger Mouse's production is perhaps what makes this record's subject matter so effective. The general concept of the album is that Norah Jones loses a lover and finds that she's better off without him in the long run. The mix of DM's atmospheric soundscapes, strong instrumentation, and Jones' delivery are what really heighten the drama of her emotions and reactions on this subject. Take "Travelin' On" for instance; a simple acoustic strumming pattern is accompanied with a very dark, brooding cello line that makes everything seem more melancholic and engrossing.
The highlights of the album would have to be opener "Good Morning," "4 Broken Hearts," and "Miriam." "Good Morning" is a very humble opener with extremely layered synthesizer work but quiet, beautiful guitar strumming. The sound is very warm compared to later songs on the album, and Jones' voice is extremely welcoming, as if she wants to personally take the listener on the journey the record provides. "4 Broken Hearts," on the other hand, is way more haunting and cold-hearted. The chorus offers some sentimentality with a reflection on the past relationship, but the guitar chords are more abrasive and the bass work is more sparse. "Miriam" is possibly the most intense and unorthodox Norah Jones song ever created, with a darkly hollow acoustic guitar motif and the vocals sounding heavily echoed and... well, creepy. In fact, the lyrics are about Jones killing her ex's lover and taking her original life back with him. Overall, though, the song is one of her best, and provides a thrilling emotional charge to boot.
Little Broken Hearts may not sound like a typical Norah Jones album, but that's what makes it so exciting. It takes cues from a more diverse selection of artists and infuses Jones' personality and charm to make the product entirely unique. This one's a keeper.