Monday, November 28, 2011

Norah Jones's Sophomore Slump Feels Like Home

The Good: Decent voice
The Bad: Dull lyrics, Nothing musically exceptional or even interesting
The Basics: While I might enjoy listening to Norah Jones singing standards in a nightclub sometime while I'm eating a fabulous dinner, Feels Like Home exhibits little native talent from her.

When I reviewed the debut album of Norah Jones, Come Away With Me, I found myself surprisingly disappointed. I love musical artists who are articulate and creative and who do their own thing. I recall finding a number of Jones's lyrics on Come Away With Me to be overly simple and that saddened me as my expectations for her as an artist were higher. Nevertheless, I found myself eager to listen to her follow-up Feels Like Home.

The simple verdict: Strike two!

With thirteen tracks, credited to "Norah Jones with The Handsome Band and Special Guests," Feels Like Home clocks in at just over 46 minutes and had its greatest success with the single "Sunrise," which opens the album. The weird, eclectic, down-home feel of the song is combined with eccentric dancing flowers in the music video and seeing that on The Tube recently was what probably made me pick up the album.

More developed musically than her debut, Feels Like Home has Norah Jones stepping away from the piano and lone woman sound. At least musically. The lyrics have the same timbre of an artist who is lazily playing her piano and singing about days gone by. The Handsome Band that backs her on this album offers a richer sound, but not much more. Musically, Jones is still backing herself with safe, reliable, predictable instrumentation to support her vocals. The new array of instruments does not push her range, does not challenge the listener and does not truly suggest that her music-writing prowess has grown.

Put another way, Feels Like Home feels like Come Away With Me, but with more instruments. The essential style has not changed beyond Jones adding increased instrumentation. So, it's not "woman at piano," but it sounds like it. It sounds as much like the "woman at piano" sound as it could with guitars, bass and drums added. It does not use those other instruments to increase the power or range of the musical sound.

Vocally, Norah Jones continues to impress. She has decent range and her vocals range from a dusty, sensual sound on "Above Ground" to the light-pop alto melody of "Sunrise." She clearly has abilities in this regard. Part of the problem listeners are likely to have with her is that her range defies the usual limitations of a pop-rock artist. So often lumped closer to jazz, Jones's vocals are her superlative ability. She has a voice like honey and a range that rivals that of artists like Fiona Apple.

The problem is, she's not singing anything fresh, new or interesting. While her vocals might be impressive, her lyrics are not. Jones wrote or co-wrote six of the thirteen tracks and her songs remain some of the least lyrically sophisticated on the album. Even her song "Sunrise," the closest to a hit the album produced degenerates into a silly refrain of "Then I say / oooo, oooo, oooo / To you." While it gives Jones a chance to illustrate her melodic voice, it does not say anything. And I'm never impressed by artists rhyming the same word with itself, so continually rhyming "sunrise" with itself if just disappointing.

But the album continues to have generally predictable lyrics that are, at best, singsong rhymes. So, for example, on "What Am I To You?," Jones writes and sings (it is one of the few songs she wrote alone on the album), "When I look in your eyes / I can feel the butterflies / I'll love you when you're blue / But tell me darlin' true / What am I to you?"

As a result, the album suffers as a somewhat silly or lazy attempt to explore love, relationships and hanging out. In fact, the best word I can come up with to describe this underachieving sophomore album is "adolescent." It just seems lyrically, thematically, and musically simplistic. There is nothing that kicks the listener and says "This is it!" I don't mean that in terms of a single, either. There is nothing on this album lyrically that suggests that Jones has something deeper to expose or say through music. There is nothing musically on this album to suggest that Jones has a musical expression that is unique, powerful or even distinctive.

As harsh as it may be to say, there's nothing on this album to suggest that Jones has any particular talent outside the ability to sing standards at her piano in some club somewhere. That's not to say she would not do that especially well, because she would. Feels Like Home, though, seems to be an argument that she has nothing truly creative or distinctive beyond that to present.

The best track is "Those Sweet Words," the weakest link is the unmemorable "Humble Me."

For other, similar female artists, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Tidal - Fiona Apple
21 - Adele
Be Ok - Ingrid Michaelson


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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