An experimental experience finds Norah Jones falling flat
Artist: Norah Jones
Album: Pick Me Up Off the Floor
Label: Blue Note
★★★ (3/5 stars)
Coming on the heels of Sister, the recent album by Puss N Boots, her all-star ensemble featuring Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson, Norah Jones’ Pick Me Up Off the Floor, seems to bear a decidedly appropriate title.
Granted, Jones has never been the most boisterous performer, but by kicking off the album with a decidedly downcast offering like “How I Weep,” it’s apparent that she has a long way to go before she gets fully stationary.
Several of the songs on the new album appear to drag for no reason at all, as if they’re struggling to get momentum. While a few tunes like “Flame Twin” and “Say No More” eventually catch fire, it seems a tortuous process to get there. Then again, Jones never seemed comfortable playing the role of a pop princess. Her music contains a jazz-like quality which imbues a subtle, seductive tone in her music. Yet, she succeeds best when leaving room for an emphatic recurring refrain, and on a song like “Hurts to Be Alone” she clearly succeeds. It’s true too that an occasional nocturnal ballad along the lines of “Heartbroken, Day After” clearly plays to her strengths. Yet, her plaintive pleas only go so far, and Jones, like every dedicated chanteuse, needs to inject an infusion of energy to get the pulse racing, even if only momentarily.
The main culprit here seems to be her breathy vocals, and while her delivery is clearly aimed at luring the listener into more reclusive realms, an occasional upshot of emotion might help break the lackadaisical lethargy that seems to punctuate so many of her songs. “This Life” is particularly troubling. “This life is over,” she wails plaintively, suggesting she’s even more bereaved than usual. Fortunately, “I’m Alive,” the song that follows two tracks later, offers assurance that she can still summon some strength when a lift is really needed.
To her credit, Jones has managed to sustain a devoted following and some well deserved chart success simply by furthering her formula and treading a fine line between her elusive inclinations and the enticement offered from her more mainstream melodies. Mostly though, that latter distinction is often blurred and her quiet contemplation takes on a tenuous tone. Under ordinary circumstances, “Were You Watching,” “Stumble On My Way” and “Heaven Above” might provide some substantive appeal, but played out as the three final tracks of this particular set, they merely serve to end the album on a decidedly depressing note.
If Jones is asking her listeners to pick her up off the floor, then she should put a bit more effort into the process as well.