The 'Fall' Experiment: Breaking Old Habits Norah Jones became an immediate star after the release of her 2002 album Come Away With Me. Having sold more than 36 million records, Jones decided to move in a different direction with her new fourth album, titled The Fall. Rock critic Ken Tucker says it's an improvement over her last two.
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The 'Fall' Experiment: Breaking Old Habits

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The 'Fall' Experiment: Breaking Old Habits

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The 'Fall' Experiment: Breaking Old Habits

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DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Norah Jones became an immediate star after the release of her 2002 album, "Come Away With Me." Having sold over 36 million albums, Jones decided to move in a different direction with her fourth CD, called "The Fall." Rock critic Ken Tucker wonders whether that change is good.

(Soundbite of song, "I Wouldn't Need You")

Ms. NORAH JONES (Singer): (Singing) If I touched myself, the way you touch me, if I could hold myself, the way you held me, then I wouldn't need you, I wouldn't need you, no, I wouldn't need you, to love me.

KEN TUCKER: Norah Jones' voice is refrigerator-cool � never icy or frosty or drop-dead cold, which tends to make any song she sings seem both brisk and a little chilly. This is good for your average singer-songwriter, for whom the tendency to spill the warm blood of emotion needs a little contrast to keep from becoming humid and overwrought. But for Jones, cool distance was becoming a mannerism, a fetish. It was as though she was starting to take pride in seeming not engaged. On her new collection, "The Fall," Jones sounds like someone who's decided to snap out of it, to approach new songs with more eagerness and alacrity.

(Soundbite of song, "Young Blood")

Ms. JONES: (Singing) I'll pretend my heart's not on fire, if you steal my true love's name, broke down subway in the city spires, tape your picture over hidden frame. We'll imagine we're sleeping revolver, shotgun wedding in a strange SoHo, our chambers hold silver collars, gun down werewolves wherever we go, we gun down werewolves wherever we go, midnight phone calls.

TUCKER: That song "Young Blood," is clearly not the 1957 Leiber & Stoller hit for the Coasters. Norah Jones is likely never to loosen up that much. But this new "Young Blood," which she's co-written with Mike Martin, contains a few departures typical of her new album. Jones, who has spent most of her recording career behind a piano, plays the guitar here and throughout this collection. And she's poking around for new metaphors for love and heartbreak, here imagining herself shooting a gun at werewolves and setting New York City aflame. No one's going to mistake Norah Jones for a rebel but it's helped revitalize her gift for fashioning a sharp musical hook, as on the album's first single "Chasing Pirates."

(Soundbite of song, "Chasing Pirates")

Ms. JONES: (Singing) In your message you said, you were going to bed but I'm not done with the night. So I stayed up and read but your words in my head got me mixed up, so I turned out the light. And I don't know how to slow it down, my mind's racing from chasing pirates, now I'm...

TUCKER: The sound of this new album "The Fall" is both stark and spacious. Jones is working for the first time with the producer and engineer Jacquire King, who has also collaborated with Tom Waits and Kings of Leon, musicians who favor a louder, rougher sound than we associate with Norah Jones. King has designed an echoing sonic landscape, where electric guitars and various drummers reverberate alongside Jones' voice. The freedom of these arrangements has freed Jones up to rock out � or at least come as close as Norah Jones will to rocking out.

(Soundbite of song, "It's Gonna Be")

Ms. JONES: (Singing) If all we talk about is money, nothing will be funny, honey. And now that everyone's a critic, it's makin' my mascara runny. If we only talk about the heavens, makin' it together is crazy. If we don't get a new situation for our destination we're lazy, but it's gonna be, it's gonna be, please make it be, it's gonna be...

TUCKER: The new Norah Jones is also something of a rueful joker, as when she salutes the "Man of the Hour," in a song of the same name. The song suggests that after too many rocky romances, she's found a perfect companion: a dog.

(Soundbite of song, "Man of the Hour")

Ms. JONES: (Singing) It's him or me, that's what he said, but I can't choose between a vegan and a pothead, so I chose you, because you're sweet and you give me lots of lovin' and you eat meat. And that's how you became my only man of the hour. You never lie...

TUCKER: If, in the end, "The Fall" is not quite as jaunty as the top hat Jones wears on the cover of this album, it's certainly an improvement over the dolorous self-regard of her last couple of albums. She's referred to this collection as an experiment. I don't think even the most conservative Norah Jones fan is going to find this experiment all that jarring. But it's certainly opened up her voice to a new expressiveness that's not tidy or merely pretty.

BIANCULLI: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "The Fall," the latest album from Norah Jones.

(Soundbite of song, "December")

Ms. JONES: (Singing) December, come to me, I hope I can see, you're not just in dreams, I will let you be, why can't you believe, how much you really mean?

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR.

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