As a rule, we’re as suspicious of actors making records as we are of, well, rock stars appearing in movies. But Scarlett Johansson’s previous, if brief, forays into music have at least demonstrated both flashes of talent and an unnerring grasp of cool. There’s an abiding memory of her in a pink wig singing karaoke to The Pretenders’ “Bass In Pocket” in Lost In Translation, or seen in fuzzy Youtube clips providing backing vocals for “Just Like Honey” at the Jesus & Mary Chain’s comeback show at last year’s Coachella festival. She also recorded the Geshwin standard “Summertime” for a US compilation and even starred in a Bob Dylan video, “When The Deal Goes Down…”, to support his Modern Times album.
Now she’s recorded her debut, an album of Tom Waits’ covers (and one self-penned track), produced by TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek and featuring guest spots by Yeah Yeah Yeah’s guitarist Nick Zinner and, on two songs, David Bowie, with whom she co-starred in Christopher Nolan’s movie, The Prestige. Although the songs here run as far back as 1976, most of them actually come from the later part of Waits’ career; only one song pre-dating 1983’s Swordfishtrombones.
Here, then, is our track by track preview at what you can expect…
TRACK BY TRACK: Scarlett Johansson: Anywhere I Lay My Head
(Taken from Tom Waits’ 2002 album, Alice)
A bit of a cheat, this, as it’s an instrumental track. But, it does efficiently set out the album’s sonic template – loosely, late period Cocteau Twins, with touches of Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs and Marianne Faithfull. A gentle organ intro before a wave of brass comes crashing in, then straight into…
2. “Town With No Cheer”
Scarlett privileges the storytelling aspect of Waits’ original, recalling here Marianne Faithfull as she half-sings, half-speaks the lyrics. Waits’ version is pretty sparse – just his voice recounting the lyrics accompanied by keyboard and accordion. Initially, this version doesn’t stray too much from that: the backing is organ, and keyboards with the occasional burst of guitar, but gradually Sitek layers on sax and drums and pushes the organ further up in the mix.