Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Norah Jones arrived on the music scene with almost everything already. Like Alanis Morrissette, she seemed to be too big too quick. But whereas Alanis's career drifted off (she's now doing Black Eyed Peas pastiches, if that's any indication), Ms. Jones (she's still Miss now, having split from long-term luvvie and songwriting partner Lee Alexander in 2007) has set about to reignight her career with a more uptempo solo album.
This is a bit more rock than her last few albums, with trashy guitars mixing in alongside Jones' trademark vocals. It's no El Madmo (google it) or definitely not the Little Willies (be careful googling that one), but those two avenues have no doubt given Jones more confidence for this.
The Fall opens with lead single 'Chasing Pirates', the song most like her previous albums. It eases you in to this, the darker Norah Jones album. This is her fourth solo album, and it seems to be here that she's really finding her feet. That said, 'Chasing Pirates' is a glorified radio hit. But one of those ones you won't be guilty singing along to.
'Even Though' offers a better glimpse of what The Fall actually is. It's gritty and dirty, a far cry from the smooth soul of Come Away With Me. This is down to both Jones' new direction, and her choice of producer this time around - Jacquire King, who has previously worked with Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse, Josh Ritter and Tom Waits. She has also enlisted a fine selection of session musicians, including Tom Waits' own guitarist Marc Ribot.
The songwriting here is fantastic too. As well as songs penned by her own hand, she has co-writes with Okkervil River/Shearwater's Will Sheff ('December') and Ryan Adams ('Light as a Feather'). The Adams song was one of the primary reasons I wanted to hear this album. I had enjoyed her previous work, 'Feels Like Home' never gets enough credit, but really wanted to hear what Adams had to offer her. Sadly, he's not on backing vocals or guitar, but without that, the song is still great.
'Young Blood' is the finest song on the album. It's a bruised hymn to aging (kind of), but what makes it good is the fact that it just rocks. If the Dead Weather is a little too dirty for you, this may be right up your alley. 'I Wouldn't Need You' could well be about Alexander, and features a marvellous interplay between piano and drums. Beck's drummer Joey Waronker is responsible for the latter.
'Waiting' is another of the softer songs, that harks back to the debut. And you know what? It's fantastic. It reminds me a bit of Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins' 'Happy', which is definitely not a bad thing. The Will Sheff co-write 'Stuck' is the longest song on here at over five minutes, but never outstays its welcome. Instead, it drags its mucky boots all over the clean carpet and has you cursing when it's gone.
Overall, this isn't a Norah Jones album for everyone. The Fall charted at number twenty in Ireland which is a disappointment, but not totally unexpected. It's not one for people who loved her debut and rank it alongside Michael Bublé and Dean Martin. It is one for those of you who like your music a little edgier, a little rawer, and damn good.
Watch 'Chasing Pirates' live on Later... with Jools Holland: