Some observation of the circumstances at this particular junction in Norah Jones’s career andlife goes some way to explaining what is, on The Fall, quite a change in style since the coffee table daysof her 20-million-selling 2002 debut Come Away With Me.
Having split withbeau and bassist Lee Alexander, her maturation as a singer-songwriter and musical interpreter, as well as her penchant forquirky side projects – including Puss n Boots, The Little Willies andSloppy Joannes – all point to the inevitability of Ravi Shankar‘s daughter straying from the immediacy of another Feels Like Home. Thus it proves on her first album in three years.
The edgier musical company she now keeps includes RyanAdams, Okkervil River‘s Will Sheff, JesseHarris and producer Jacquire King, whose production creditsinclude Tom Waits. They go some way to explaining the bittersweet mood this time round.
The Fall is a slow-burner, naturally; Jones’sadoration of the ballad as a means of communication has remained. �But this flickeringflame casts a solemn�glow that contrasts sharply from the invitingwarmth emanating from her earlier work, especially on that Grammy-winning debut. It’s as though the dinner partyher earlier records soundtracked has ended and the shadows of night have set in.
First impressions are deceiving, as Chasing Pirates sounds andfeels instantly engaging, a surefire candidate for radio play. But this time traditional piano has a less prominent role,allowing minimalist guitar work, with varying levels ofprocessing, to steal the instrumental spotlight. The cool, light-as-air jazz-popiness hasgiven way to brooding, understated… alt-rock.
Concurrently, while Jones’s voice is as beautifully dulcet as ever,she now speaks with a rawness lacking from her earlier recordings.Waiting is a wrought with pessimism: “If I wait, it doesn’t mean youwill return.” That’s a far cry from Turn Me On, from her debut, that expresses yearning from a much more positive perspective.
Best this time round are the unexpected musical turns of phrase that transform these songs. Standout track You’ve Ruined Me, for instance, is a simple country-style waltz built on fourrepeated chords and some poignant harmonizing in the chorus. But thelatter of the two refrains unexpectedly shifts to a far more menacing mood, calling to mind the canon of Fiona Apple.
Her potential was immediately obvious on Come Away With Me. Less predictable washer now clear desire to take risks and step off the all-too-well-forged path of safe, agreeablebackground music. Instead, on The Fall Norah Jones chooses to defy categorisation.