Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Scarlett Johansson - Anywhere I Lay My Head

Before I begin talking about this album, let me state that I have had a crush on Scarlett Johansson roughly since Ghost World. So, that's about a six year crush, and both of us have gone on to do wonderful things in those years (she did Lost in Translation and I did a bunch of little writings that are not worthy of the public's attention), but I was very excited to hear she wanted to do something as bold and risky as release an album, and what's more, an album of Tom Waits covers, and what's more, with Dave Sitek, Nick Zinner, David Bowie, Tunde Adebimpe (sp? I just want to say "TV on the Radio" in general, because that's what it sort of sounds like), making it an actual "indie cred" album. However, I remember when a friend of mine went to go buy the Zwan album at Other Music roughly six years ago, and the record store clerk looked at her blankly when she asked for it and then said, "Oh, I guess they've got some cred."

So maybe Anywhere I Lay My Head is comparable to Mary Star of the Sea in its goodness, but I will actually take SJ over BC in this instance. While her voice is not what made her famous (her acting talent, her grace, her beauty), apparently she used to aspire to musical theater, so she is living out a side of her dreams at least, and her voice is more soothing than Billy's. However, that comparison is completely off-base--the only way it makes sense is to say that both artists wanted indie cred so they recruited backup musicians from various indie rock supergroups--except in the case with Scarlett, it seems like she actually just likes that music (in her liner notes, when she mentions sharing a mutual appreciation (with Dave Sitek) for New Order, of course I want to melt further into my crush). Enough people respected her to agree to be a part of this album, and while it may not be one of the top 10 albums of 2008, it probably deserves to be in the top 50, and is a very sucessful experiment as far as albums go from actresses. I would not dissuade her from doing another a few years down the line.

Really, just the title track emphasizes the strengths of the album--it could be good music to sleep to, as Tom Waits might be if he didn't occassionally go crazy on his albums with all the booming and clanging and dog barking. I can only describe her voice as being somewhat similar to Chan Marshall's. I would not compare her to Neko Case--she does not reach as high a register. She does have a very limited range, but as a crooner, she does everything she needs to on this album. I think in an interview she said she didn't want it to be like "coffee shop" music, but she has more succeeded in making "lounge" music. But it is not "lounge" music in the same way typical Waits (piano-era-Waits, which Johansson does not cover much of here) could be--drunken and sad. It's more like "after lounge" music, if that makes any sense.

Some of the songs are sad, and some of the lyrics are awesome to hear Scarlett sing (like on "I Don't Wanna Grow Up," which vaguely delivers on its New Order-y construction), but more awesome is hearing Bowie sing on "Fannin Street." "Green Grass" and "Town with No Cheer" are my favorite songs she picked, and they are done decent justice, though "Grass" to a better effect than "Town."

Nick Zinner does not bust out any YYY's moves, but Dave Sitek does make the album sound like a TV on the Radio album, and with several guests from the band on many of the tracks, any fan of TVoTR will at least appreciate the production value. Otherwise, is the album worth buying? If you have a crush on Scarlett, like me, and you hope to meet her in L.A. and have her break off her engagement with Ryan Reynolds by praising her album and knowing everything about it and about her and about what makes her great, then you might like this album. I don't think many people are going to get it--she's not going to be as big as JLO. But it is a low key album, a low key release, despite the Bowie presence, and a quality listen. It might be a better album to burn off your friend (I recently read that Scarlett did not attend the premiere of the new Woody Allen movie she is in because they wouldn't provide an $8,000-a-day make-up artist for her, and while this sounds completely out of character, I'd rather presume she wanted to be in the States on the day her album was released) because she probably doesn't necessarily need the money, but please listen to it before you make fun of me for saying it is good or just laughing off the thought of it. She is very concerned about whether or not Mr. Waits is going to like it. I'm not sure how he is going to feel about each individual track, but overall, I have to think he would be very complimentary to Scarlett. It's clear that a lot of effort was put in here, and a covers album isn't necessarily going to be a revelation (unless you're Chan Marshall maybe), so I believe she's done about as well as she can, and done a very respectable job of releasing a debut. As weird as everything sounded in concept, the finished product is actually pretty nice.

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