sat 11/07/2020

Album: Norah Jones – Pick Me Up Off the Floor | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Norah Jones – Pick Me Up Off the Floor

Album: Norah Jones – Pick Me Up Off the Floor

Strong songwriting captures the mood of the times

Virgin EMI/Blue Note

Norah Jones is writing good songs. The 11 of them which appear on Pick Me Up Off the Floor, the seventh solo studio album by the nine-time Grammy-winner, form a very strong album with a convincing and satisfying shape, a journey from hurt and doubt to contentment. It is probably her best album in ten years. 

That might seem surprising, given that the origins of the album have been described as “a collection of songs left over from sessions [..] some of which ended up on the singles collection, Begin Again.” But spontaneity has always been a strong suit for the Brooklyn-based singer. Her own albums are just part of a story which has ranged from her frequent and deliberate disappearances under the radar, for example in the tongue-in-cheek indie-rock band El Madmo, or the longer lived and still-active doo-wop outfit Puss N Boots.

And her songwriting process, as she has explained, has undergone a complete change in the past few years. From having been, as she has described herself, a "nervous songwriter", the collaboration with Brian (Dangermouse) Burton on the album Little Broken Hearts opened new doors creatively for her: “His process opened me up to no-fear songwriting,” she has said. These days she goes into songwriting collaborations with no pre-prepared material. She and various songwriting partners just “throw stuff at the wall.” But it works: “We come out with stuff that I'm totally in love with." Pick Me Up Off the Floor is the most convincing proof yet that these methods are really working. 

Musically, the album has a beguiling range of moods and vibes, from rockily channelling Lucinda Williams in “Say No More”, to a radiant early-Peyroux-ish calm in “Stumble on My Way.” Sometimes a mood of gentle reflectiveness is flagged up early in the songs, with short piano introductions reminiscent of Abdullah Ibrahim, as in the tracks “”Were You Watching, which then builds carefully, inexorably and anthemically, and the calming and elegantly paced “Heartbroken, Day After”. The core vibe is slow, but there was only one track where after a few listens I began to find the process of getting through the harmonic sequence beginning to feel effortful, the album’s closer "Heaven Above", the second of two writing collaborations on the album with Jeff Tweedy.

Her voice is in great shape, and the production is a satisfying whole, with superb backing vocalists, and strong solo cameos from, for example, violinist Mazz Swift in “Were You Watching”. The core of her group is bassist Chris Thomas and the astonishing Brian Blade on drums. His regally slow backbeat on “Stumble On My Way” is utterly mesmerising.

A lot of attention in the lead-up to the release has been from interviewers asking her to unpick the meaning of specific lyrics. She doesn't co-operate, which is smart, and after 50 million album sales, she's probably earned the right. She sometimes chooses to keep the secrets of the songs intact with a stonewall gambit like: “I’m not going to explain my lyrics” (Downbeat). Or, more playfully, she countered the question from a Waitrose Weekend (sic) interviewer quoting one of her own lyrics back at her thus: Is love the answer, Norah ?.... She responded with another question: “Wish I knew. It certainly doesn’t seem like the wrong question, does it?”

That said, an album made before lockdown and #BLM does seem to have uncannily captured the uncertain, nervous mood of the time. Mantra-like repetitions of the lyric "This life as we know it/ Is over" now seem strangely prophetic.

  • Pick Me Up Off The Floor is released today 12 June 2020

@sebscotney

It is probably her best album in ten years

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters