Monday, 13 April 2009

Beautiful Scarlett

As I imagine to be the case with any number of heterosexual males, I find Scarlett Johansson rather easy on the eye, and I have no problem admitting this. She may not be as consistently impressive an actress as Cate Blanchett, or blessed with Tilda Swinton's remarkable ability to make you forget sometimes that you're watching a shit film (check her Archangel Gabriel in the otherwise awful Constantine if you don't agree). But she was great in Ghost World, The Man Who Wasn't There and Lost In Translation, and did a likeable screwball turn in The Nanny Diaries, a film which, although entertaining enough, wasn't quite as clever as it thought it was. All that said, she seems to have appeared in a few too many movies lately where her performances have been kind of flat. The Island is a case in point. I don't want to be too hard on her for that one - after all, it wasn't so much just another crappy, dystopian, sci-fi/action thriller as it was just another crappy Michael Bay movie. All the same, there were moments in that particular flick when, seemingly called upon to convey something like panic, confusion or some kind of realisation that the world her character inhabited was something altogether more terrifying, her expression was more like, "Now, did I remember to turn off the bathroom light? I'm sure I did..." No matter. Like I say, 'crappy Michael Bay movie'.

No, the real subject of this post is 'Scarlett Johansson - chantoozie'. About a year ago, she released an album of Tom Waits covers called Anywhere I Lay My Head, produced by Dave Sitek (token white dude in the best black rock band in the world). I'm not sure how it sold - Wikipedia claims it's done less than 25k worldwide (which is pretty fucking rotten), but it's Wikipedia, so whatever. I do know that the level of critical opprobrium heaped upon it was wildly out of proportion to what is by no means a bad album ('butchery' and 'trainwreck' were amongst the choicest descriptions). It isn't anything earth-shattering, but, as a Tom Waits fan, I liked it, and was surprised at just how much better it was than I expected. I certainly couldn't imagine people queuing up to take a Forrest Gump all over it with quite the same enthusiasm, had it been by some Pitchfuck-endorsed Hope Sandoval wannabe rather than a Hollywood actress. Sadly, its reception, broadly speaking, does tend to typify the "how dare she..?" attitude, not only of people who considered the record to be yet another vanity project by a piece of Hollywood eye-candy with ideas above her station, but also of those rock snobs and music geeks who seem unable to comprehend that a "gurl" might be familiar enough with the work of Tom Waits to do an album's worth of his songs. I mean, how could that be possible..?

And that's another interesting thing about the record. You might expect there to be a few of The Hits on there, mightn't you? I did. Yet there's no 'Innocent When You Dream', no 'Kentucky Avenue', no 'Jockey Full of Bourbon', and certainly no 'Downtown Train'. The tracklisting looks like the kind of thing a serious Waits fan would come up with, albeit one perhaps a little less familiar with his 70s output. So what does it sound like? Well, it sounds like This Mortal Coil to me, which is no bad thing at all (Ivo Watts-Russell had some involvement, I understand), and there are moments when Sitek's production sounds to me as if he might have had in mind a more modern take on the kind of kitchen-sink-and-all sonic overload that Phil Spector almost drowned Leonard Cohen in on Death Of A Ladies Man, with Nyquil and absinthe taking the place of Quaaludes and pharmaceutical chang. Scarlett's voice isn't the most astonishing thing you'll ever hear, and sometimes it gets a little swamped by the densely-textured arrangements, but I get the impression she prefers being just another component of the whole thing, as opposed to her acting work, when she's usually further up front. Even though it's her name on the cover, the enterprise itself isn't dependent on her being a virtuoso singer in order for it to work. Entertainment Weekly declared it 'the worst album of 2008'; an editorial decision I suspect was arrived at before they'd even cracked the cellophane on the CD, and one which confirms, for me any road, that it's a periodical far better suited to analysis of things like the finer details of Lindsay Lohan's love-life, rather than of music.

It isn't that Scarlett's a bad singer either, because she isn't. Her recording of Gershwin's 'Summertime', from a 2006 compilation 'Unexpected Dreams: Songs From The Stars' is proof she's more than capable of carrying a tune, even if the enduring impression is of someone who was unlikely ever to have much of a career in musical theatre. In fact, I put her original take on a couple of summer-themed mixtapes I did for friends last year as a hidden track. When they found out who it was, a couple of them were pleasantly surprised. Along with 'No One Knows I'm Gone' from Anywhere I Lay My Head, I've posted it below, so you can hear for yourself. As a little extra, I've also posted one of my summer mixtape secret weapons; a remix of 'Summertime' I did in an afternoon last year. It isn't something I've circulated all that widely, but if you happen to like it, then you're more than welcome to share it wherever.

Scarlett Johansson: No One Knows I'm Gone - Anywhere I Lay My Head (2008)

Scarlett Johansson: Summertime - 'Unexpected Dreams: Songs From The Stars' (2006)

Scarlett Johansson: Summertime (Mighty Love Remix) - unreleased

1 comment:

kenneth said...

I like your remix, and the credentials are good. She started off with the J + M Chain singing "Just Like Honey" at Coachella, and then she did the Tom Waits thing with the lone white guy from the black rock group who sounds exactly like Peter Gabriel. So OK. But "Hello world, 'Summertime,' is how I am presenting myself in my new endeavor? I was not feelin it. You want to talk about safe. But your mix tho? Very nice.