Inexplicably garnering more love than she has since her 2002 debut, from corners that have long since grown indifferent and/or fallen asleep, hipster coffee-house chanteuse Norah Jones pairs with the previously infallible Danger Mouse on her fifth studio album, expanding on the exquisite cameos she made on last year’s masterful “soundtrack to an imaginary film,” Rome. Alas, even super-producer Brian Burton cannot animate a corpse, and the surprise on Little Broken Hearts isn’t that Jones remains painfully bland in a more exotic, less traditionally Blue Note setting, but that said blandness is contagious and annoying enough even to remove the joys of Burton’s dense, murky and usually emotional sonic swirl.
Don’t be fooled by the album cover’s homage to softcore femdom auteur Russ Meyers’s sexploitation classic, Mudhoney: “Passion debased by lust leaves a taste of evil!” is a sentence that never could be uttered much less written by our Norah. As the title telegraphs, this is a break-up album, apparently chronicling the singer’s split with an unnamed “fiction writer” who done her wrong and left her plenty ticked off. “Little broken hearts of the night/Slowly picking up their knives/On the way to the fight/Tonight they want revenge,” she sings in that trademark breathy style somewhere between a whisper and a coo. But Jones doesn’t have an ounce of Tura Santana in her, and that voice and her approach to the material is exactly what’s wrong.
We never get a hint of genuine anger or cutting pain, a wisp of soul, an indication of unplumbed depths or any emotion deeper than, “Dammit; I can’t believe The Gap doesn’t have my size!” or “I’m so down, I could eat the whole pint of Cheesecake Brownie!” Like that particular Ben & Jerry’s concoction or Jones’ handful of tracks on Rome, a little goes a long way and tastes pretty good going down, while too much leaves you queasy and miserable. Little Broken Hearts definitely is too much.
Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts (Blue Note)
Rating on the four-star scale: 1 star.