NORAH JONES The Fall (Blue Note)
Apparently Norah Jones' fourth album is something of a departure from her previous work, the prospect of collaborations with the likes of Ryan Adams, Will Sheff of Okkervil River and a producer, Jacquire King, chosen for his work on Tom Waits' clanging, banging "Mule Variations" causing some consternation out in the dinner jazz heartlands.
Perhaps it's fortunate, then, that this is actually the first Norah Jones album I've heard. What stands out for me is how sumptuous it is, some way removed from the indie slumming that pre-release publicity might have had some listeners nervously anticipating. There's a gentle kookiness at play here that almost suggests a kinship with the likes of Suzanne Vega or Rickie Lee Jones, although "The Fall" is never as encoded as their work can be. In fact, it's the more openly personal songs, such as "Waiting" and "Back To Manhattan", that buoy the album.
Musically, "The Fall" is rarely obvious. It's not an album of big choruses and killer tunes, and the immaculate production shimmers in an Eno/Lanois-style heathaze that does nothing to help differentiate the songs from each other. At times - "I Wouldn't Need You", for instance - it has a heavy-lidded feel that, combined with Jones' hazy, near-narcotic vocals, almost, almost, almost nudges it into Mazzy Star territory. Whilst not exactly Joy Division, there's still something uneasy about Ryan Adams co-write "Light As A Feather", not least the way its intro seemingly apes that of Black Sabbath's "Fairies Wear Boots". "It's Gonna Be" is carried on the politest ever Glitter Band stomp, and "Stuck"'s slightly lopsided, angular gait is an appropriate match for its bad-night-on-the-tiles narrative. The record "The Fall" is most akin to in feel, though, is Beck's "Sea Change", another work haunted by the memory of past love, perhaps not entirely coincidentally as both albums share musicians (drummers Joey Waronker and James Gadson and guitarist Smokey Hornel) and even a cover photographer (Autumn de Wilde).
So, if some kind of transformation has taken place here it's something deeper and subtler than, say Deacon Blue's baggy makeover or IndieKylie. "The Fall" is a more intriguing, interesting album than expected. I also have to commend Blue Note's vinyl pressing, which sounds absolutely scrummy, and arrives packaged with a sizable poster.