Those expecting the languid, jazzy piano-led balladeer of old are in for a surprise. Four albums into her career and Norah Jones is embracing change.
The Fall — the title hints that the subject matter may be less rosy than before — is guitar-heavy and hugely atmospheric. Jones has talked about being heavily influenced by the Tom Waits album, Mule Variations, and one can certainly hear echoes in these songs. She's even hired veteran Waits collaborator Jacquire King to produce.
There are other changes too. Her old band is gone — and that includes her long-term boyfriend and bassist, Lee Alexander: the pair ended their relationship shortly before Jones started working on this album.
Stuck is typical of the new direction. Written by Will Sheff, the frontman of the criminally neglected Okkervil River, the song's woozy musicality compliments its boozy subject matter.
There are moments of real beauty too. Back to Manhattan is as gorgeous as anything the New York-based singer has yet written and finds the song's protagonist torn between lovers on the opposite side of the city. And December is elegant and austere, as Jones plumbs the depths of despair when she sings of being in “the loneliest place I have known”.
The Waits influence is perhaps best heard on Young Blood, which provides the album's most intriguing lyric, “I'll tape your picture over his.”
Her first Grammy-garlanded album may have sold enormously well, but there's always been a sense of Jones playing catch-up in the seven years since. The Fall arrests that trend in a spectacular way.
Burn it: Back to Manhattan; December