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Norah Jones Tests New Ground on ‘The Fall’

Oh, Miss Jones -- what the devil are these synths doing all over your silky, plush-kitted-out pipes. I’m talking about “Chasing Pirates,” off Norah Jones’ new album, The Fall (Blue Note), out today.

The ‘80s-esque offender just may have pop classicists rushing for the door, teeth clenched in rage at the artifice of it all: Synth and Wurlitzer chords burble and throb in counterpoint to Jones’ slipping and sliding vocals, more soft-rock Bruce Springsteen than OMD, riffing off the Boss’ “Fire” and punctuated by baldly faux handclaps. “And I don’t know how to slow it down,” Jones croons, lost in a fantasy of paranoia and escape and alone for the night. “My mind’s racing from chasing pirates.”

And “Chasing Pirates” turns out to be one of the sexier songs in Jones’ catalog -- a gambit that seems to run counter from her no-drama image thus far. This track and “Even Though” are aberrant outsiders on the otherwise more traditional, folk-rock-focused The Fall, and though neither are exactly booty-shaking electro bangers -- “Even Though” blends those softly bumping electronics with a firmly backgrounded electric guitar -- they nevertheless hint at stranger, quirkier sides to the Jones’ otherwise seamless sound.



The rest of The Fall will doubtless comfort longtime fans  -- though Jones is skewing darker and bluesier throughout, in contrast to her whimsical appearance on in the cover art: she’s clad in a feathery formal-cum-wedding gown and surrounded by hounds. Still, there’s nothing wild or out of hand about the sounds here, despite new songwriting partners like Ryan Adams and Okkervil River's Will Sheff -- this isn’t Jones’ Hounds of Love. Lyrically she’s alone in the shadows, mind racing and roaming, working out various scenarios between her and the “Man of the Hour.” She never loses herself completely: there are a slew of solid pop songs here, like “I Wouldn’t Need You,” with spartan backing by a mixed bag of musicians including skilled jazz and rock hands-for-hire like guitarists Marc Ribot (Tom Waits) and Smokey Hormel (Johnny Cash), keyboardist James Poyser (Erykah Badu) and drummer Joey Waronker (Beck). Nonetheless, keeping an ear to the first two bolder tracks of The Fall, you can feel Jones starting to tug at the tethers, looking for new ways to bolt from time-tested formulas.