Norah Jones “Little Broken Hearts” (Blue Note)
After the massive commercial splash of 2002's “Come Away With Me,” Norah Jones ran away from the torch songs and standards of that album, an unusual and artistically admirable move in an industry that values predictability. She collaborated with Outkast, Dolly Parton, Q-Tip, Jack White, Belle & Sebastian and Andy Samberg, performed in the all-star “Kidney Now!” benefit on “30 Rock” and generally defied all expectations. At this point, it is hard to name another current performer who has followed her muse so assiduously when many of her fans wanted to just come away with Jones again and again on the similar-sounding jazz-piano albums.
“Little Broken Hearts” continues Jones' trajectory into artful indie pop that began with 2009's “The Fall,” and despite a few moments when producer Danger Mouse covers the proceedings in too many layers of his trademarked murk, it is a satisfyingly adventurous exploration of lost love. Jones is thematically consistent on the album, whether exploring her facility with up-tempo R&B on “Say Goodbye,” delivering a lament on the other woman in “She's 22,” or trying to make a clean break with the bouncy pop of “Happy Pills.” While Jones still possesses that great seductive jazziness in her vocal delivery, the sonic presentation on “Little Broken Hearts” is clearly designed to create distance from her early work. Even on traditional ballads such as “Miriam,” Jones and Danger Mouse shroud the tracks in dense, near-psychedelic orchestration.
This approach can veer toward oppressive on some of the slower songs such as the closing “All a Dream,” when the compressed production creates distance in a track that would benefit from greater intimacy. But like the B-movie glamour of its cover art, which is modeled after the poster for the 1965 Russ Meyer film “Mudhoney,” “Little Broken Hearts” has an element of horror to it. The end of romance is not pretty, and Jones clearly wanted to make a stark, cold-sounding album to mirror her mood.
— George Lang