In Review: Norah Jones’s ‘Day Breaks’
There’s something dangerous about stellar debut albums. When an artist releases a first record with the kind of overnight cultural and critical impact that Norah Jones’s “Come Away with Me” had in 2002, it sets a seemingly unachievable bar. Some spend their careers trying to replicate that initial success; others try to avoid it altogether.
Jones found a middle ground and mostly sidestepped that trap. She’s released four albums since “Come Away with Me,” and her quote-unquote least successful one, 2009’s “The Fall,” still peaked at No. 3 on the U.S. charts. In all, she’s sold well over 50 million albums.
On Friday, she’ll release her sixth studio effort, and all indications point to another commercial success. “Day Breaks” plays through in a similar way to “Come Away with Me” — in fact, Jones said in a statement that she again felt most inspired to write on the piano where before she primarily chose the guitar — but it lacks the type of power the latter had.
There’s nothing really wrong with “Day Breaks.” Jones’s voice sounds as smooth and hypnotizing as it ever has, though maybe fuller now, less bright, and the songs flow together like pages in the same jazz handbook (Neil Young, Horace Silver and Duke Ellington covers included). But the whole thing’s a pretty average effort from one of the preeminent jazz artists of a generation — an effort that’s unlikely to stick with a listener long after listening.
Somehow, “Day Breaks” feels edgeless. It’s remarkably polished, and possibly deserving of award consideration because of it, but the longing that characterized Jones’s voice 15 years ago, which made her so accessible to fans both young and old, just isn’t there anymore. She packs her punches with less tragedy now. Those who were in their 20s when Jones first shot up the charts, and who have grown into marriage and parenthood in a similar way (Jones is now married with two children), may find more in common in 2016. For a younger group, not so much.
Of course, the album does have notable highlights. “Carry On,” for which Jones released a music video in August, is a fantastic, twinkling pop song that shows glimpses of her at her strongest.
She sings: “And now that all’s been said and done — / Who said it best, were you the one? / Let’s just forget, leave it behind / And carry on.”
The first song, “Burn,” “It’s a Wonderful Time for Love” and “Sleeping Wild” showcase a more mischievous minor-keyed Jones, but they don’t lead to any grand release. Then, on the light-hearted and quenching “Once I Had a Laugh,” she seems to open up to an acknowledgement of past selves long gone, however briefly. You have to wonder how different the album would have been had she written more thoroughly in that vein, and not touted “Day Breaks” as a “full circle” return to what made her early recordings so special.
“Once I had a laugh,” she sings on that song. “And now I’m older, / But I will not forget.”
Verdict: 3 out of 5