Aural Pleasure

Not Too Late
Norah Jones
(Blue Note)

You’d have to be a self-loathing sourpuss of the first order to dislike Norah Jones. She’s humble, self-deprecating, sensitive, seemingly unaware of her own beauty, and stubbornly resistant to hype and gimmickry. And, just to seal the deal, she loves Willie Nelson.

That’s why it’s no fun being a detractor of Jones’s music. As with her outrageously popular first two releases, Not Too Late is blandly palatable in three-minute doses. Taken as a whole, however, it qualifies as an over-the-counter insomnia cure.

The PR hook for Not Too Late is that it marks Jones’s emergence as a songwriter, after devoting the majority of her first two albums to covers. The credits may have changed, but Jones stubbornly sticks to the same dreary tempos, the same muted arrangements, and the same auto-pilot approximation of sultriness that made Starbucks Nation embrace her five years ago. Her tunes are like trains in a fascist state: always arriving at the same time, in the same way, with a spirit-draining dependability. It’s why The Onion recently ran a parody piece announcing that Jones had just released her debut album for the third time.

  To be fair, the cabaret waltz “Sinkin’ Soon” elicits a trace of sassy mischief from the normally staid chanteuse, and while “Thinking About You” breaks no new ground, its relaxed soulfulness suggests what Jones is aiming for on the rest of Not Too Late.

But five years and three albums into her recording career, Jones’s weaknesses can no longer be excused as the tentative searching of youth. They are the manifestations of a severely limited artist. The problem isn’t that she operates on a small, intimate scale (that’s actually one of her most appealing qualities). It’s that her range of emotion and mood is narrow to the point of non-

It can’t be a good sign that both the Iraq War “protest” song “My Dear Country” and the bitter kiss-off “Not My Friend” sound like they could just as easily be about how much she likes her Decaf Caffè Verona.

— Gilbert Garcia