Review: Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts (2012)

How many little broken hearts?  Norah Jones doesn’t specify a number in the title of her fifth studio album. There is a wonderful track titled “4 Broken Hearts” on the album, but the answer is not four.  Based on the weight, scope and clarity of the hurt and vulnerability revealed on Little Broken Hearts, it’s safe to say it feels to be somewhere in the thousands.  And that’s not meant to be an exaggeration.  If you cannot relate to at least one lyric of one song on Little Broken Hearts, then you have never loved. Or, you are lucky enough to have never known what it feels like when that love has left.  Now that’s a heavy statement, but it doesn’t even scratch the surface of say, something like, “‘Cause you never hurt/ Someone who wants to learn/ To be your slave.”  That dagger is found  early on “All a Dream” in which Jones falsely tries to tell herself it’s all going to be okay when she knows it’s not.  And Little Broken Hearts doesn’t really lift from that intensity.  To put it simply, Jones has been wronged this time around and she’s telling it like it is, and no one tells it better.

For her latest release Jones teamed up with producer Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse), who is better known for his hip-hop and rock collaborations, both as an artist and producer.   And of course Jones coming from her critically and commercially successful career of intermingling jazz/blues/pop/county, the two initially appeared to be an interesting studio combination.  The result, however, was nothing short of a match made in heaven.  Burton finds the right arrangements to pair with Jones’ unique and bluesy voice, careful not to overpower or overcomplicate what has always been the most beautiful and distinct part of her music. “Little Broken Hearts,” “4 Broken Hearts,” and “Out On The Road,” all have that familiar Norah Jones-twangy rhythm.   “Say Goodbye” and “After The Fall” have an opposite melody to them; a sexy, and almost oriental feel.   “Happy Pills” is the catchy, drum-driven first single off the album and it appears to be a rare independent moment for Jones on her broken heart record, but only to relapse on the up-beat, yet pleading chorus, “Please just let me go now/ Please just let me go/ Would you please just let me go now/ Please just let me go.”

Burton and Jones are at their very best together when her voice and her honest vulnerable lyrics are front and center.  “Good Morning” and “She’s 22” along with “Travelin’ On” and “Miriam” are each beautifully brilliant in their own heartbreaking way. However, similarly in each of these songs, Burton lays down a gentle, looping melody that works gorgeously well in allowing Jones to reveal her painful and touching words. ”Good Morning” is Jones pleading indecisive, if something can change, she might stay (“And maybe powerful actions/ Or powerful feelings/ Will keep me from going”).  But Jones says it in such a way that she’s regretting the offer before she can even finish giving it.

“She’s 22” is a jealous, yet poised look into an old love now with a new girl, and she sounds young and pretty.   It’s a complex feeling; you can be almost completely over someone but when you see them for the first time with someone new, it’s a sinking, yearning feeling.  It’s even worse when this uneasiness is not reciprocated at all, because your ex is happy with whom they are with.  Jones captures this moment perfectly, and to combat the disbelief, she, only naturally, questions the sincerity of the scene: “Your flowers grow in the frozen snow/ And I’d like to know if it’s all a show/ ‘Cause you sure look happy/ Are you really happy?”

Just as “She’s 22” is the new girl, “Miriam” is the other girl.  There are a number of songs on the subject of cheating out there, but “Miriam” will go down as one of the best in quite a while.  Seriously, the track’s ruthlessness makes carving names into leather seats seem like child’s play.  Jones is confronting Miriam directly in the song, but approaches the hostility as only she could, calm and composed.  Her tone may be gentle, but her anger is seeping through every breath on the track.  It is raw and dangerous, not typically what Jones is known for, but her approach is incredibly on point and all too real.

“Travelin’ On” focuses on an element of a breakup that rarely gets spotlighted so maturely and honestly.  With its soft, carousel arrangement, it equates to maybe being the most heartbreaking of all Little Broken Hearts. It’s when the dust finally starts to settle, and she takes her first glances down the road of a life outside of the relationship, a life without him.  To totally try and forget is stubborn, but to hold on to something that is not there isn’t the answer.  So what’s next?  As Jones sings, “But now/ I don’t think too much all the time/ I’ll just try to keep on.”  She doesn’t really come to resolving anything, except for putting one foot in front of the other.   It’s helplessly understated, one of the most beautiful songs Jones has ever written.

Little Broken Hearts covers many of the stages, complications and emotions that accompany, well, a broken heart.  When any artist or band tries to tackle this subject in the studio, they must be careful to deliver their tales with sincerity and honesty and avoid coming off as melodramatic, disingenuous, or even whiney.  With all the acclaim and success in her career, Jones can teach a class on how to write songs on any subject, let alone love or heartbreak. Yet even now on her fifth album, she continues to keep it fresh, displaying vulnerability unlike this before.  Norah Jones, to this day, still gets continuously mentioned in the same sentence as soccer moms and minivans.  Little Broken Hearts is a fantastic album, one of the best so far this year, and it should be recommended to any mom, minivan mechanic and/or soccer player; but also, everyone in between.

Rating: 9.2/10

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