First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2009, Volume 16, #12
Written by John Metzger
Thu December 10, 2009, 06:30 AM CST
Four albums into her career, Norah Jones has opted to alter her course dramatically rather than continuing to try competing with the Grammy-winning success of her debut Come Away with Me. The darkened corners of her 2007 set Not Too Late offered hints that changes were afoot. Yet, the endeavor also contained indications that maybe she was hedging her bets instead of wiping the slate clean.
With her latest outing The Fall, however, itís clear that Jones has every intention of upending her musical world completely. She still purrs and coos through her lyrics, but she also sets aside her gentle, lounge-jazz style in favor of arrangements that are moodier and more foreboding. The instrumentation that surrounds her voice exchanges some of the intimacy upon which she had staked her career for ambient, guitar-driven grooves that are designed not only to fill bigger performance spaces but also to give her room to grow. At least, this was the plan. Unfortunately, the end result is that The Fall is too flawed to be called an unmitigated success.
Without a doubt, Jones should be commended for trying something new and different rather than eking out an endless stream of albums that collectively adhere to a familiar blueprint but ultimately fail to move her artistic vision forward. It is somewhat odd to hear Jones deliver the material that lines The Fall. Old habits die hard, and throughout the endeavor, she often settles into her usual vocal patterns, despite the other changes she made to her approach. This causes her singing to stand at odds with the music that envelopes her, and consequently, Jones never quite feels comfortable in her new clothes.
This effect may, in fact, have been intentional. Instead of the political viewpoints she expressed on Not Too Late, The Fall deals directly with the aftermath of Jonesí personal and professional breakup with longtime collaborator Lee Alexander. With its jagged contours, the music is meant to capture the turbulence and turmoil of her ordeal. Lacing slinky, R&B grooves with New Wave-imbued angst as well as rumbling atmospherics, she essentially blurs the line between Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. Although this isnít a bad place for Jones to have begun her transformation, she never manages to move beyond these points of reference. Instead, she frequently settles for generic, nondescript arrangements that ultimately weigh her down. The tempos and moods of her songs change little from track to track, and the monochromatic routine becomes wearisome.
Fortunately, Jones is a wonderful vocalist, and she manages to keep The Fall from becoming a complete disaster. On songs like Chasing Pirates and Young Blood, she appears to stand above the fray with a cool, detached air, offering a signal, perhaps, that the only way she was able to get past her broken heart was to shut down her emotions. Tracks like Light as a Feather, which she penned with Ryan Adams, and the country-tinged Youíve Ruined Me fare better because, although she still sounds lost and adrift, the heaviness of her sorrow is more palpable.
For an album that is meant to push Jones into more adventurous terrain, however, itís telling that Back to Manhattan is The Fallís best tune. At first glance, the song is most closely aligned with those in Jonesí past, but the restrained dissonance as well as the aching cries of a pedal steel guitar give her room to break free without forcing the issue. Itís here where Jones lays the groundwork for her future, if only she can take a few steps back and look at all the ways in which The Fall went wrong. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
The Fall is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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