Written by Fantasma el Rey
Norah Jones has thirteen new songs to offer on her latest release The Fall, which marks a change in direction for her and features a different sound as she works with a new cast of musicians. Norah plays more guitar on her fourth album and less piano, but fear not, her vocals remain as beautiful and sexy smooth as ever. One more change is that Miss Jones’ hair is now short, but again she remains stunning, which goes to show that new looks, sound, and musicians can’t take away from true brilliance.
“Chasing Pirates” opens with synth vamps, mellow bass and guitar, a steady drum snap, other percussion, and the Wurlitzer swirling in the background. The mix of instruments with Norah’s sublime vocals and lyrics has me reeling and lost instantly in the eerie, dreamlike darkness. The lyrics are great and illustrate how one text message can send the mind spinning: “In your message you said/ You were going to bed/ But I’m not done with the night/ So I stayed up and read/ But your words in my head/ Got me mixed up so I turned out the light/And don’t know how to slow it down/ My mind’s racing from chasing pirates.” The lyrics move on and there’s “an ambulance scream,” “impossible schemes,” and drowning insanity, back to mind racing, chasing pirates, a line which is delivered masterfully by Norah. There’s also the slightest Caribbean feel, like Blondie’s “The Tide Is High,” slowed to a crawl and buried in the sand so its barley audible.
“Even Though,” “Light As A Feather,” and “Young Blood” continue down the road of darkness set up by “Chasing Pirates.” The bass lines and drums remain a steady, driving factor and can be related to certain gothic, new wave sounds of the early- to mid-1980s. Norah’s lyrics shine and along with the music remain a bit heavy even as she has some writing help from Jesse Harris (“Even Though”), Ryan Adams (“Light As A Feather”), and Mike Martin (“Young Blood”). “Young Blood” contains great lyrics about gunning down werewolves, “Our fears are only what we tell them to be,” and “Young blood/Young bones/Old ghost,” not in that exact order but strung together well and in a way that makes them work wonders.
“I Wouldn’t Need You,” “Waiting,” “You’ve Ruined Me,” “Stuck,” and “Tell Yer Mama” break things up a bit. They have that country vibe Norah has displayed here and there on her past recordings. “Wouldn’t Need You” finds Norah’s piano work brought to the front and tells of how if she could do certain things on her own and feel a certain way on her own she “wouldn’t need you.”
“Waiting” finds her doing just that, wondering why and will she ever learn and will waiting at all ever get “you” to return. “Stuck” brings in some scratchy, heavy electric guitar and the play of the bass, piano, and string synth remind me, in a slight way, of the chorus to Lou Reed's “Satellite Of Love.” Call me "crazy," but I hear it.
“Tell Yer Mama” finds Jesse Harris and old friend Richard Julian helping with the songcraft on this mid-tempo country romp. The bass thumps out solid plunks as the drums pound an Indian bop hop beat. The clavinet provides an interesting sound twist to this tale of someone who just can’t see that the girl is waiting for him to come around.
“It’s Gonna Be” is the thunder-and-lighting track as its three minutes of heavy, rumble drums; thick bass grooves; mean guitar; and a “tuff” sounding Wurlitzer set the stage for Norah’s assertive vocals. She pushes you back telling how its gonna be: “Aim at the ones who’ve really hurt us/ They should be arrested for murders.”
“Back To Manhattan” and “December” are the jazzy/country tunes that could have been pulled from her previous recordings. “Manhattan” is a quiet piece about going back to something or someone you’d thought you could simply ride away from. “December” scales things back more as this one is only played with acoustic guitar, some light programming and synth, and of course Norah’s piano and sublime vocals.
“Man Of The Hour” is the album closer and finds Norah alone at the piano telling of her “man” of the hour: a dog. After listening to this witty little ditty, it makes you wonder and rethink the focus of some of the others songs' lyrics. Then there is the album cover with her in a furry-looking wedding gown with a top hat and a Saint Bernard at her feet while the CD insert has her in the same dress surrounded by dogs.
Norah Jones’ The Fall is mostly set to a different pace for her. Some fans may be a bit taken back at first, but Norah is the same talent overall and can still make you think and sing along with her poetry and wit set to wonderful music.