Seasonal shift

Seasonal shift

Where Norah Jones’ previous albums were smooth, warm and cuddly—mellow sonic grooves that threw in snaky basslines and spectral pianos over her earnest, laidback croon—The Fall, her latest album after 2007’s Not Too Late, is a more unpredictable ride.

Its pillow-soft surface hides a bristling edginess, a refusal to merely settle in. The lyrics take a darker bent, highlighting the frictions of a wavering relationship. It’s a shift best exemplified by album opener Chasing Pirates, a two-and-a-half-minute single driven by a propulsive bassline and a wavering keyboard line that sounds like it’s breaking through radio noise. My mind’s racing/From chasing pirates, she sings wistfully. It’s a lovely tune, and a great statement of intent for the rest of the album.

The Fall reaches its height with the centrepiece It’s gonna be, a racier track that temporarily shelves the preoccupation with personal crises for broader societal concerns. Organs and drums dominate the 3-minute track, which takes aim at the media, celebrity culture and activist lethargy. If we don’t get a new situation/For our busted nation/We’re lazy, she sings over heavy percussion.

In between, The Fall settles into familiar, friendly Norah Jones territory—which is, of course, not a bad thing at all. There’s the lullaby-like December towards the end, leading into country music territory with Tell yer Mama, both instantly likeable 3-minute tracks. Even Though is a straightforward, but beautiful love song, while Young Blood channels the same energy that drives Chasing Pirates. There are several collaborators, from country artist Ryan Adams to Okkervil River’s Will Sheff.

Jazzed up: Norah Jones’ The Fall takes her music in new directions.

Signs of experimental dabbling notwithstanding, there are those who might call The Fall only a tepid attempt, just a wary testing of unfamiliar waters. But when you’ve sold nearly 40 million records around the world, won multiple Grammys, and even starred in an arthouse film with Wong Kar Wai (2007’s My Blueberry Nights)—any attempt to break away from what people expect you to sound like is a welcome one.