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People have been sharpening their knives, waiting for this release
on 16 May 2008
Probably all listeners are going to come to Scarlett Johansson's debut album with preconceptions. There are many who hate the concept of actresses releasing albums (and with Lindsay Lohan, who can blame them?), envy her lifestyle (million dollar income, villa in the Hollywood Hills, Ryan Reynolds as fiance, etc.) or hate her for the Hollywood adulation and her already gargantuan popularity. And there are those who are accused of weakening at the knees before the formidable marketing juggernaut, loving the idea of this album before they have even heard a note. She's subject to adulation to be sure, but also to ridicule, falling seemingly irresistibly into that actress-cum-singer shoebox.
The crucial question, however, is: IS IT ANY GOOD? And I would say yes and no. Her weird, angular voice is definitely a surprise (I don't remember it being such a croaky baritone in Lost in Translation), which strikes a refreshingly different chord to the hyperhigh, glass-shattering vocals of other female singers. But Scarlett's delivery is almost always drowned out by the epic soundscape that David Andrew Sitek has created around her and Tom Waits' songs: she's more of a feature on the album's musical landscape than occupying its centre stage. David Bowie lends a hand on vocals, too (more a measure of her star-studded connnections than the high esteem in which he holds her vocal ability and musical artistry, I would imagine). The uncharitable would say that her voice is deliberately overwhelmed to cover up the fact that she can't actually sing, but it's a shame that we don't hear more of it - precisely because her throaty, croaky voice is unusual and compelling. Those shoegaze and dreampop atmospherics - from which this album borrows to craft its sound - are nothing new, having had their heyday in the early nineties. The album improves, however, towards the end: by the eighth and ninth tracks, she shakes off the woozy, dreamy soundscape and lifts her voice out of its basement. Her vocals become more melodious and emotive, as well as being set against less dominant instrumentation, quicker beats, and the chinking acoustics of a little girl's jewellery box. We could have done with more of this liveliness.
Worth a listen: Anywhere I Lay my Head, Falling Down, Fannin Street, I Don't Wanna Grow Up, I Wish I Was in New Orleans
For fans of: Dot Allison, Mazzy Star, the gravelly voices of Marianne Faithfull and Nico
Not for fans of: Tom Waits, probably ;-)