Normal people get into a terrible funk after a break-up. Musicians make songs out of all that rottenness. Bob Dylan’s grand casserole of anger, heartache and loneliness in Blood on the Tracks, and more recently, Jack White’s raucous posturings of a wronged husband/lover in Blunderbuss are broken hearts laid out on chipped vinyl. Jazzy crooner of sigh-singing fame Norah Jones joins the heartbreakers’ club in her fifth solo album, Little Broken Hearts.
Closer to Marvin Gaye’s legendary ‘divorce double album’, Here, My Dear, Jones is actually a sparkier singer on this album than her usual hypo-ventilating self, something that can be attributed partly to her understandable desire to have her heart put there on the table and partly to the fact that Danger Mouse aka Brian Burton — who has collaborated with the likes of the Black Keys, Beck and Gnarls Barkley — has produced and co-written the music.
Little Broken Hearts starts uneventfully enough with ‘Good morning’, where Jones sounds like a kindergarten teacher strumming a Spanish after the kids have gone home and she’s left ruminating about her boyfriend away helping people in Rwanda. The mood of the album becomes a bit more nuanced in ‘Say goodbye’, with its faux-rumba back beat hinting at a post-break-up hit of the gin bottle as Jones sings, “Don’t you miss the good old days/ when I let you misbehave?”
A darkness slides over the kitchen floor in the title track. Her voice holds firm like cutlery as a guitar shimmer can be heard as some sort of a stand-in for someone departed. “When the beautiful awake, and see the sadness in their eyes/ Will they want to find a way to make it alright?” she sings, half-awake, half in dream. The clippity-clop strums of ‘She’s 22’ has a cowgirl riding into a ghost town feel about it.
Till now, there’s nothing wrong with the record. But as a fine ambassador of the ‘adult contemporary’ genre, I’m terribly underwhelmed — until, that is, the fog-like notes of ‘Take it back’ roll in. For 4 mins 6 secs, Jones is transformed into a mourning mermaid, taking us into a landscape with buzzing guitars, a phantom chorus and a blues-drenched atmosphere that has signs of Danger Mouse droppings all over. This song has something that no other Norah Jones song has ever had: depth.
‘After the fall’ sounds like a KD Lang reject. ‘4 Broken hearts’ is a love dirge that tries out the 60s Big Voice-Slow Sound routine that leaves me cold. If you needed any reminding about what this album is supposed to deal with, the cellos in ‘Travellin’ on’ do the needful — while I take a quick nap.
The up tempo of ‘Out on the road’ is a middle-of-the-road track that makes me want to myself a cup of tea. Which I drink while I enjoy the ‘I want to break free’ drum’n’riff intro of ‘Happy pills’: “Never said we’d be friends,/ trying to keep myself away from you ‘cause you’re bad, bad news/ With you gone, I’m alive.” At last, Jones has grown some spunk:
If you overlook the elegiac tune that’s been hired from Adele’s ‘Someone like you’, you’ll probably be able to enjoy ‘Miriam’ more than I was able to. And perhaps like this ho-hum album too.
Hair guitar, here today
Fans of the legendary parody metal band Spinal Tap, you’re so gonna love this homegrown talent. Delhi’s Heavens Down — known as Ashtoreth and Night Train at different points of their existence — is the ultimate college band. By which I mean this is a 14-year-old hard rock act that’ll be loved by legions of college-goers whose necks are strong to headbang hard. This is their five-track debut album Rock Will Never Die.
Right from the slash’n’burn’n’crash opening track ‘Just too much’, to the anthemic-for-pandemics hair guitar heaven of ‘Risky rascal rock’n’roll star’, to the title track that makes me suspect that 80s hard rockers Cinderella have regrouped as Heavens Down to make a strategic comeback, this album is completely a nutcracker suite for heavy metal junkies who get aroused by men thrashing about with long hair and longer guitar solos.
The music is tighter than the seat of Poison frontman Bret Michaels’ spandex pants. Joshua Queah’s vocals are indistinguishable from the finest 80s hard rock banshee, while the band could have easily been on Kerrang! magazine’s cover 20 years ago. So what if they aren’t a tribute or parody band? If you’re protected from laughter, the worst that can happen to you while ‘listening’ to this album is you’ll have a great time.