El Madmo: “El Madmo”

It might be easy to enjoy El Madmo if it was what it makes itself out to be-namely, smoky-voiced, lite-jazz folky Norah Jones cutting loose and rocking out as the frontwoman of her own, brand new rock outfit. And certainly, that’s what El Madmo tries to be-Jones and her two bandmates wear outlandish wigs in the publicity photos, the album cover sports a Gorillaz-style cartoon replica of the band, and the album opens with a song about a guy with good pot and closes with one called “Rock Yer Balls Off.” Cosmetically, it’s a far cry from the measured, mellow stuff Jones does on her solo albums, and certainly, no one will confuse this album for a sequel to Come Away With Me.

But just because she’s given herself a makeover doesn’t mean she’s found an exciting new direction for her music. Reinvention does not always involve artistry, and El Madmo simply doesn’t work on any level. It’s obviously meant to be taken as a bit of a throwaway-a rollicking lark of an album that proves Jones doesn’t always take herself so seriously-but the problem is, it isn’t the stupid good time it wants to be. It’s simply stupid, neither fun nor funny, or even particularly energetic. After the clean, manicured guitars and bratty attitude of “Carlo!” the album immediately moves to a series of tame, mid-tempo numbers that essentially sound like Norah traded her piano for an electric guitar. Even the rowdiest numbers here are too carefully-crafted and lightweight to qualify as punk, or even rock-it’s just bland, by-the-numbers pop. And because there’s no real conviction in the performances, the attempts at stoner humor-the silly hot/not and glass/ass rhymes-simply come across as condescending. There’s only one sense in which the album works at all, and that’s as a peculiar footnote to Jones’ career-proof that she has far-ranging ambitions, but also evidence of her very limited set of gifts.

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