Exorcizing the ghost of a failed relationship via the time-honored tradition of the breakup album, Norah Jones luxuriates in beautiful misery on Little Broken Hearts. Liberated by the separation but not quite ready to let it go, Jones achieves a curious subdued tension here, dressing unadorned confessionals in softly stylized studio noir created with the assistance of producer Danger Mouse, who collaborated with her the year before on the collective Rome. Seeming opposites -- the classicist meets the futurist -- Jones and Danger Mouse are well matched, as both artists are not as set in their ways as their individual reputations would suggest. Jones began to drift away from the jazzy sophistication of Come Away with Me when she released the quietly adventurous Not Too Late way back in 2007, the year after Danger Mouse broke into the mainstream via Gnarls Barkley. In the ensuing half decade, the singer/songwriter continued to dabble in different sounds and styles while the producer streamlined his electronic eccentricities, leaving them to meet at the crossroads of Little Broken Hearts, where he wrings out the pathos in her songs. The songs themselves hold little mystery -- all motivations are laid bare, there are no twists in the melodies or detours hidden within the structure -- so all the mystique derives from a production that amplifies the themes. Occasionally, Danger Mouse piles on his signature murk a little too thickly, weighing down such spare sad songs as "She's 22" and "Miriam," yet his aural tapestries often lend the tunes a lilting melancholy they require and add dimension to the album's poppier moments ("Happy Pills," "Say Goodbye"). Conversely, by placing so much emphasis on the stylish ever-shifting surfaces of its production, Little Broken Hearts never quite sinks in emotionally. Norah Jones may be pouring her heart out but it's been given an elegantly detailed sculpture that camouflages her pain. Listen closely and its evident, but it takes effort to ignore the alluring haze and hear the songs that lie beneath.
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