BY JONATHAN VALANIA It’s another lazy Sunday morning coming down. You are awakened by the sunshine streaming through the open windows and the sound of the Brooklyn streets outside coming alive. Oddly, Danger Mouse is laying next to you, on his back, looking up at the ceiling, languidly strumming an elegiac guitar. He acts like you aren’t there. If you listen closely, you can hear a tinkling, Eno-esque piano arpeggio out of the corner of your ear. It sounds, and more importantly feels, like raindrops falling on your head. You roll over and there’s Norah Jones — beautiful, kind, classy incarnate Norah Jones — her little hands plinking the keys of a toy piano. Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands, you think to yourself, absently quoting e.e. cummings.
Oddly she seems to have cut her hair since you went to sleep last night, but she somehow looks even more beautiful shorn of her trademark long inky locks, which is odd because you always prefer long hair. Always. She gives you that pensive, other-shoe-about-to-drop look that always spells trouble or that unexpected change has already become operational. You hate change. She starts singing, “Good morning, my thoughts on leaving, are back on the table, I thought you should know,” like you’re in one of those musicals where all the dialogue is sung instead of spoken. It is at this moment that you are reminded why you hate musicals.
Welcome to beginning of Little Broken Hearts, which, despite the fact that it’s a down-the-middle collaboration with Danger Mouse, will be credited as the fifth album and latest album by Norah Jones, the holy madonna of modern MOR. It is easily her best album to date, it is also a fairly radical departure from everything album that precedes it, a heart-shaped-box sampler of poison pills and bloody valentines, pop noir shot through with magic and loss, spooky-sexy analog keyboard textures, echoey vocal washes and tremolo power chords, knotty Krautrockian bass lines, and the shimmering jangle of guitars. It is, in fact, such a complete break from her past that it may well cost her as many old fans as it gains her new ones. Not that she’s sweating it. She’s used to having millions of people who’s she’s never met making snap judgements about her, some in the name of love, and others riven with loathing and contempt. Such is life in the business that is show.
If you are not among the 27 million global villagers that bought Jones’ Grammy-sweeping 2002 debut, Come Away With Me, and made it the biggest selling album of the last decade, or, for that matter, Feels Like Home and Not Too Late, the two albums that came after and pretty much pick up where the first left off, or the last one, 2009’s The Fall, that doesn’t so much and instead hints at the adept pop stylist she has become, well, you probably have your reasons. Presumably among them are:
1. You Wouldn’t Want To Be A Member Of Any Norah Jones Fan Club That Would Have You. It’s not so much the music you can’t stand it’s the crowd it draws. Lots of balding graybeards with ponytails who still think pressed jeans and a blazer is sticking it to the man. Smug jazzbos who put on Pat Metheny when they are in the mood to fuck shit up. Tweedy Lebowskian dinner party bores with with pierced ears and patcheD elbows that drink too much and stay too long. Turtlenecked wine bar romeos and Birkenstocked fern herders. Plus, your parents like her and the day you and your parents agree on music is the day you officially become O-L-D.
2. You Are Still Reeling From Some Tragedy In Which Norah Jones’ Music Played A Pivotal Role. Some smug yuppie assclown ran over your puppy/kitten/wheelchair-bound little brother while screaming unto distraction into his bluetooth at his stockbroker behind the wheel of his Escalade, windows down and blasting Come Away With Me, and he didn’t even bother to stop.
3. It’s Not Your Fault It’s Hers. It’s nothing personal, but you just simply can’t abide her amalgam of Starbuckian jazziness, tastefully-muted country lilt and the smoky after hours torch singer balladeering. “Should be called ‘Snorah Jones’,” you have been known to say in your saltier moments.
Well, you won’t have Norah Jones to kick around anymore. At least not that Norah Jones. The old Norah Jones is dead, long live the new Norah Jones. Truth be told, the new Norah Jones looks a lot like the old Norah Jones, but with shorter hair and higher hemlines. The new Norah Jones makes kitschy panoramic odes to the inglorious bastards of Sergio Leone spaghetti western with Jack White and Danger Mouse. She takes album cover art design cues from Russ Meyers’ movies, wherein beautiful-but-deadly Double D glamazons body slam sniveling creeps into submission with feral hell-hath-no-fury fierceness.The new Norah Jones writes murder ballads, vowing homicidal retribution against the fairer-sex co-conspirator in her lover’s deal-breaking infidelity. Message: I will cut you, bitch. OK, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But unless your name is Lou Reed, Iggy Pop or Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli, I am willing to bet Mitt Romney $10K that Norah Jones is, despite your protestations to the contrary, cooler than you. Here’s why: MORE