If there’s one thing about Norah Jones that hasn’t changed in the five albums she’s released in the last ten years is that she’s never been one to adopt unnecessary bells and whistles into her music. Every style of music she’s recorded and dabbled into, no matter how far away from her previous recordings, that’s one aspect that has stayed true to her sound. Jazz, roots, country and alternative/indie pop. On Little Broken Hearts, the sound is again very minimalistic, sometimes with just a light guitar strum with an accompanying cello and plucking bass combo supporting Norah’s sweet delicate vocals.
The album starts with the gentle Good Morning which serves up the album’s theme with the opening line “Good morning/My thoughts on leaving are back on the table/I thought you should know.” While the title Little Broken Hearts might indicate the record is made up of self-pity, the next track Say Goodbye suggests otherwise with lyrics like “it’s alright, yeah it’s okay/I don’t need you anyway/You don’t have to tell the truth/’cause if you do I’ll tell it too.”
Despite that, there are moments where Norah breaks down and admits that she’s feeling as we’d expect to. Some of the songs mention the need to escape “I guess I’ll have to love you from afar/It’s okay ’cause all I need’s my car,” from Out On The Road; the other girl, “does she make you happy?” from She’s 22; or the fall itself, “after the fall, I still want it all,” from After The Fall, perhaps purposefully written as such after her last album was titled The Fall. But on Happy Pills, Norah shows a glimpse of comfortable confidence as she announces “I gotta get ya out of my head/Get out” over a mid-tempo bouncy beat.
Two of the more striking songs on the record come from two emotional extremes. Both songs approach the other woman from different perspectives. On She’s 22, Norah questions the authenticity of the relationship of her former lover who has moved on with a new woman, “your flowers grow in the frozen snow and I’d like to know if it’s all a show.” The noticeable quality of this song is the foggy production on the vocals resulting in very cloudy imagery and is the saddest song on the record. On the other hand, Norah doesn’t hesitate to reveal the name of the woman her anger is directed at. Miriam is made up of cut-throat lyrics that sound even more menacing when one takes into account how mellow the song itself sounds with lines like “I’ve punished him from ear to ear now I’ve saved the best for you,” or the killer ending verse
that’s such a pretty name
and I’ll keep saying it until you die
You know you done me wrong
I’m gonna smile when you say goodbye
You know you done me wrong
I’m gonna smile when I take your life.
followed by an ominous humming that doesn’t sit well but feels oh so right.
It’s interesting to look back and see how Norah started off as a performing artist whose first two albums consisted mostly of covers. It wasn’t until her third record that she let her own songwriting take centre stage. On her fifth album Little Broken Hearts, the pairing of Norah and Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) has resulted in some pretty distinctive writing styles. Most of the songs follow the basic verse-chorus-verse-chorus format, without the bridge and any chorus repetitions. Also, several of the songs lay out the two-side perspective with the one verse focusing on the “I” and the other on the self-perceived “you”. “Bring me back the good old days/when you let me misbehave” vs. “Don’t you miss the good ole days/When I let you misbehave,” “Out on my own now/and I like the way it feels,” vs. “Out on your own now/do you like the way it feels?” and “So you tried to replace me/but you didn’t get far,” vs. “And we tried to be faithful but didn’t get far.”
Norah hit the spot with her fifth album, covering all of the bases, delivering some solid emotions recorded in song and coming up with some striking lyrics, including what might be the album’s best one-liner in Take It Back: “words spoken silently/I could never understand how breath delivers such poison to someone too weak to stand.” Little Broken Hearts is further evidence of Norah’s serious musicality as she owns what she sings but also is open to allowing an outside source mould her work into something even greater.
1. Good Morning
2. Say Goodbye
3. Little Broken Hearts
4. She’s 22
5. Take It Back
6. After The Fall
7. 4 Broken Hearts
8. Travelin’ On
9. Out On The Road
10. Happy Pills
12. All A Dream