Jones changes course and thrives; 50 Cent stumbles down same old road
'THE FALL' (Blue Note)
Norah Jones isn't quite so serene or folky anymore. On her fourth album, "The Fall," she moves away from both a romance and the sound that made her one of this decade's few consistent million-sellers.
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"The Fall" is the first solo album Jones has made without Lee Alexander, her former boyfriend, bassist, songwriting collaborator and producer. Many of her new songs revolve around a breakup that she presents as protracted, tangled and ambivalent. "Why can't it be easy? Easy? Why don't you leave me?" she sings in "Stuck," a song she wrote with Will Sheff of Okkervil River that suggests both Neil Young and the Beatles.
For this album Jones set aside most of her usual coterie of tiptoeing acoustic sidemen. "The Fall," produced by Jacquire King - an engineer for Tom Waits, Modest Mouse and Kings of Leon - plugs her in.
The arrangements are sparse and naturalistic but more dimly lighted than on previous albums; they have shadowy, echo-y fringes. Some songs, like the waltzing "You've Ruined Me" - "Thought I liked it, but I'm ruined//My whole world's now turned upside down" - are easy to imagine with her old band playing them just a little more quietly. But Jones approaches the heft of roots rock in songs like "Young Blood" and "Light as a Feather," while the opening chords, backbeat and programmed drums of "Chasing Pirates" hint distantly at Madonna's "Like a Virgin." Cautiously but deliberately, Jones is making a new start.
- Jon Pareles, New York Times
'BEFORE I SELF DESTRUCT' (Shady//Aftermath// Interscope)
So it turns out 50 Cent only works well as a world killer, an artist who doesn't make sense divorced from unassailable power or commercial success. That's become ever clearer as popular sentiment has shifted away from him, and his bag of tricks has run low.
All of which makes it difficult to take "Before I Self Destruct," his fourth studio album, on its own terms. "I make the register ring," he raps on "Death to My Enemies." "I'm the cash cow." Rarely has the present tense sounded so much like blind optimism.
The material here is familiar - comic teasing on "So Disrespectful," drug talk on "Stretch" and, in a welcome comeback, occasionally touching autobiography on "Then Days Went By." He takes veiled shots at Lil Wayne, and smack talks the members of the G-Unit crew who've been excommunicated.
Taken as a whole, this album has a pleasingly morbid tone, in keeping with the best moments from 50 Cent's first two albums. But context is this album's undoing. This summer he released a series of mixtapes and a book: Both arrived, and disappeared, quietly. "Before I Self Destruct" is the ramblings of a stubborn heavyweight pushing retirement, not clever enough to replace declining agility with wit.
- Jon Caramanica, New York Times