Release Date: May 20, 2008
Record label: Atco
Anywhere I Lay My Head, actress Scarlett Johansson‘s debut CD, is an extravagant act of camouflage: a covers album where the interesting objective of reimagining Tom Waits songs with Arcade Fire-type soundscapes plays second fiddle to disguising her expressionless voice. With her low monotone, ScarJo aims for Nico but comes off like Sinéad on sopors — never more so than on the zombielike ”I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.” In burying Johansson’s vocals so deeply in the druggy ambiance, producer David Andrew Sitek (of TV on the Radio) means well but ends up obscuring Waits’ great tunes. CDOWNLOAD THIS: Hear ”Falling Down” on spinner.com .
While not quite the trainwreck its backlash would have you believe it is, Anywhere I Lay My Head certainly is a bizarre album, washed in a Nyquil slick of David Sitek’s oddball, bombastic production and swirling around Scarlett Johansson’s deep, uninflected contralto. That ten of the album’s eleven songs are covers of deep tracks from Tom Waits’s clattering, throat-torn oeuvre (and the fact that the album features guest spots from David Bowie and Nick Zinner) gives it some degree of credit. The (mostly) blank-eyed, expressionless reinterpretations do not.
As an actress, Scarlett Johansson often gives herself over to being an object of fantasy -- not necessarily in a purely carnal fashion, but something rather more complicated: wish fulfillment for her directors. Sofia Coppola turned Scarlett into a romanticized version of herself, Woody Allen was comfortable casting her as both a lethal sophisticated seductress and ditsy bombshell, while even Michael Bay turned her into some kind of empty cloned sex kitten. Given this history, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that her debut album, Anywhere I Lay My Head, is an extension of this pattern, as Dave Sitek -- pivotal member of TV on the Radio, producer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Foals -- helps turn Scarlett into a 4AD diva, partially with the assistance of Ivo Watts, who helped sequence the album.
Review Summary: Not quite the epic fail it could have been, but close.If there's anyone in the world it's impossible to say no to, then it's surely Scarlett Johansson. After all, she's young, she's rich, as an actress she's clearly got a lot of talent, and she's strikingly attractive in a way that suggests she was designed rather than born. Men don't do well when confronted with women like that, as one Woody Allen will attest (seriously, he hasn't talked about a woman so much since that thing with his daughter).
As a public persona, ScarJo is a pouting cipher, a forbiddingly expressionless white screen on which her counterparts can project their fantasies. This provides a steady stream of work in cinema and a stunning variety of reactions from the audience. And yet, that void can be a difficult thing to maintain, as the conflicting interpretations pile up and the ego swells.
For every film star or reality TV celebrity determined to be a recording artist who actually has some musical talent, there are literally hundreds who don’t, and, sadly, Scarlett Johansson is among the latter. Doing justice to the colourful and well-loved work of Tom Waits would be a challenge for any interpretive stylist, so a novice like Johansson would’ve been better off trying out one of his numbers at a karaoke night first and then working up to cutting a tribute album with producer Dave Sitek (of TV on the Radio), Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and David Bowie as a backing vocalist. Considering that Johansson earns a living as an actor – ostensibly translating the written word into palpable emotions – it’s shocking how little of the humanity Waits has invested in his sharply drawn lyrics she’s able to convey.