Something Old, Something New: Norah Jones – ‘Not Too Late’

Something Old, Something New is purely a selfish way for me to write about music that I love. Some of it will be the music I heard my parents playing when I was growing up and some of it will be music I discovered on my own but all of it will be music that I need to write about; if only for me to better understand the music and how it makes my own world make sense.

Not Too Late was written in the midst of political and social unrest in the United States, and in the world, similarly to now; with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in full swing and the presidency of George W Bush was in its second term.

I had just turned 20 when the album was released and was about to embark of a trip to the Middle East and start University the following year. As a fan of Jones’ first two records, and her as a musician, I remember being excited when I first heard the album. It sounded more mature, more intellectual and a little bit weirder; it wasn’t as smooth or “easy” to digest as her other albums but at the time I never could put my finger on why.

Now, however, looking back and listening back on the record, I realise that maybe I was just too young to understand Not Too Late in its entirety. The sound is slightly more jarring and the lyrics that much more darker than her previous incarnations; Come Away With Me and Feels Like Home, which even the titles even were far safer, warmer and more hopeful. Not Too Late implies missed opportunities and moments; and the paper-thin hope that you haven’t waited too long.

‘Wish I Could’ opens Not Too Late, a song that my 20 year old self thought was about a ordinary break up but is in fact a story about two women mourning the death of a man they both once loved with only one of them knowing the truth.

 “I don’t tell her that I once loved you too/ Or about all things we used to do/ I kiss her hair and think of you/ Walking down/ The road you found.”

The darkness and jarring sounds come in the form of ‘Sinkin’ Soon’ and ‘My Dear Country’. The former is a jarring track full of odd and eclectic imagery and soundscape that mixes guitar, piano and trombone with pots, pans and slit drums. The two strands create a song that is a little weird to say the least but one that evokes the warmth and smokiness of a jazz bar with Jones’ voice rolling effortlessly over the lyrics and sound.

“The oyster cracker on the stew/ The honey in the tea/ The sugar cubes, one lump or two?/ No thank you, none for me.”

‘My Dear Country’ is a telling of the aftermath of the re-election of Bush in 2005 with Jones using the symbolism of Halloween – fear, darkness and ghoulishness – that, that particular administration lived up to.

“But fear’s the only thing I saw/ And three days later it was clear to all/ That nothing is as scary as election day/ But the day after is darker/ And darker and darker it goes.”

As I say, when I listen to Not Too Late ten years later, I realise there is so much that I was just not ready for. Either because I didn’t have a full enough understanding of the world or because I hadn’t yet experienced grief, hopelessness, regret and heartbreak in the way that I have now as a 30 year old. And I am sure, that in another 10 years, there will be more that I just wasn’t yet ready to understand.

There are still songs that were my favourites when I was 20 that are still my favorites 10 years later. ‘Wake Me Up’ is still the song I reach for when I need to know that I am not the only one who, from time to time, wishes they could sleep their life away.

“Wake me up when it’s over/ Wake me up when it’s done/ When he’s gone away and taken everything/ Wake me up.”

‘Not Too Late’ is another one that I loved. But now having experienced regret and heartbreak, the song is far heavier and sadder than I remember.

“Tell me how you’ve been/ Tell me what you’ve seen/ And tell me that you’d like to see me, too// And it’s not too late/ It’s not too late for love/ For love/ For love/ For love.”

But what was really the impetus for writing all of this, for writing about an album that’s 10 years is old, is the song ‘Until the End’. A beautiful piece of writing then and now, I do remember being put off by the abrupt opening and therefore never really listened to the words or story before.

Or maybe it was simply that I just wasn’t able to understand the song like I am now.

 “I used to think/ That someday I’d relax a little/ And be more like you/ Then I realized/ How silly that thought was/ Needed to stand in my own shoes.”

This particular line I had never really paid attention to before, and for some reason it now makes me cry. Perhaps because, like a lot people, I thought for a long time I had to be more like someone else to be enough, and maybe I sometimes still think that but I am slowly starting to realise that being me and being different is perhaps okay…

 “Like a child, you forget/ But I remember everything… and every sting.”

The more I listen as someone who has experienced love in all its phases, the more it feels like a song of pure unconditional love. The acceptance of yourself and the other person in spite of your differences and disagreements. And even as the years go by, you’ll both still stay the same and mean the same to one another other until the end.

 “And through all the games/ We’ll both stay the same/ As we’ve always been/ Through the fat and the thin/ Until the end/ Until the end.”

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