Thursday, March 08, 2012

Norah Jones and Danger Mouse: Little Broken Hearts

I am pretty obsessive about the work Norah Jones has done, and have little to say that is critical or negative. I have felt that way even with Feels Like Home, which I thought was a brave thing for her to have done. But then, her career has been about constantly reinventing herself, and usually in unexpected creative directions. Ms. Jones is about to do it again.

Norah Jones literally "burst on the scene" with her 2002 debut album, Come Away With Me, that won her five Grammy awards and millions of fans. It was a smooth and jazzy journey into the classical popular song format, with subtle instrumentation and arrangements that primarily showcased her voice and vocal skills. She went on to demolish this image of hers by releasing Feels Like Home in 2004, which was a “conservative” country album all the way. Not Too Late, released in 2007 introduced us to the philosopher and political Norah Jones, with all its material written by her, including songs of sorrow, songs of protest, and songs of nostalgia. Once again, it was a new foray into using contemporary formats to present the traditional song format.

The Fall, in 2009, revealed a new Norah all over again, with a new steampunk look and music videos that were meant to give competitors a run for their money. The music and the lyrics had gone urban, and the laid back languid tone was replaced with a sense of urgency that was reinforced by the slickly paced rhythm and the guitar driven structures of the songs. In between all of this, she managed to pull off amazing collaborations and side projects, working with Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, Willie Nelson and the like and keeping up her work with The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and her own side project The Little Willies.

Danger Mouse, or Brian Burton, on the other hand is a remix and hip hop artist who is half of the Gnarls Barkley duo, but whose biggest claim to fame will remain the Grey Album, a redo of the famous White Album of The Beatles. I must confess that I am not an avid listener of this genre of music, and beyond its innovativeness, I have failed to find great musical value in this type of music.

So it was a pleasant surprise to hear that Norah’s next outing was going to be a collaborative album with Danger Mouse, and it wasn’t till I heard the first single that I had any idea of what it would sound like. The Fall had seen Norah mature in style and move closer to guitar based rock without compromising on the content. She still spoke about love and loss, about ideology and disillusionment, but in a more relevant and hard hitting style. Along with it was the image makeover, that saw Norah leave her innocent country girl look behind and emerge as the strong urban woman.

The first single from Little Broken Hearts, which has a release date of May 1, 2012, but work on which started three years ago, was let out this week in a lyrics only video. The song is called Happy Pills. It is a peppy and groovy bass driven track sung in an upbeat fashion but which speaks of a breakup and lost love. However, listening to it, you can make out that this is no longer the Norah who doesn’t know why or who finds sadness in a sunrise. This is a soul diva who is almost celebrating the darkness as she chases the ghosts of an ex out of her life. The lyrics and the comic book style video adds to the magic of her voice and the breezy bass lines.

After the last Little Willies mostly covers release, this is going to be Norah Jones’ fifth studio album and surely one to be looking out for.And before I sign out, here is a look at her newest song, Happy Pills. Enjoy.

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  1. I confess I don't listen much (or at all) to Norah Jones and I am unreasonably indifferent to her work; I probably would have skipped this if not for DangerMouse. I have every one of his albums (except his 2011 works). His production is typically dense with layered beats and innovate use of samples. It's unfortunate that you don't listen to hip/hop (must be a generation gap thing). I dig this song though; very good.

  2. hehe i have no idea on these guys SUBH :D
    just gave a read for you.
    will try them listening in future.
    right now Ilayaraja dominates me :(

  3. debajyoti8:04 AM

    nicely written as always although i don't listen to any particular singer or genre of music.

    i can see one john lennon post on the left hand side. will come back and go through it.

  4. @Sandeep - I was not aware that you were into danger mouse and I am sure you will like this collaboration. Generation gap - I agree. I wonder how I will feel about things when I reach your age! :) Appreciate your comment. (I have every album, and probably every TV and radio appearance and all available live shows of Norah, sitting nicely with my King Crimson and Led Zep collections.)

    @Dee - Ilayaraja was someone I discovered relatively late in life (after I first heard Rahman and raved, and someone told me, wait till you hear Ilayaraja), since my exposure to Indian regional music is not that great, but I find him amazing, and rate him up there with the masters of world music across all times and ages.

    @Deb - Glad you liked this post, Debajyoti. I am obsessed with music and my taste is weird and embraces different genres of music. In spite of having grown up with jazz, rock, and the classics, I have Michael Jackson and Norah Jones in my faves list too. Do let me know what you think of the Lennon post.


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