Scarlett Johansson – Anywhere I Lay My Head

Scarlett Johansson
Anywhere I Lay My Head

Tackling a project such as an entire covers album (save for one original) of Tom Waits originals is a daunting task for any singer. Waits is easily one of the top five living singer-songwriters and will be remembered as one of the best of all time — so even a musician who has been making music for years would have a difficult undertaking, let alone a budding actress. But on Anywhere I Lay My Head that’s specifically what Scarlett Johansson has set out to do. She sung “Brass in Pocket” in the breakthrough film Lost in Translation and has always taken a liking to music. She created the demos and enlisted the help of TV on the Radio member and rising super-producer David Andrew Sitek to flesh out these songs and it ends up being a decent experiment rather than an exercise in vanity that ultimately dissatisfies.

The opener, “Fawn” is such a sped-up, organ-driven, muddy rendition that it entirely derails what the original intended. Waits’ version closes out his 2002 album, Alice, in a somber, yet satisfying fashion. That version’s heartrending, emotive, crying violin is replaced here with an emotionless organ that’s stacked with two howling saxophones and three different tambourines. It’s a decent insight as to what’s expected on the rest of the album but it lacks the heart and soul that Waits had already conveyed.

Then again, the songs covered here are not strictly respected and serve more as a vehicle rather than the main proponent. “Town with No Cheer” is buried in Jesus and the Mary Chain reverb and Johansson’s voice is obscured in the mix. The talented producer’s trademarks are a huge reason why the album sounds the way it does. Nonetheless, he does a great job of creating ambient, hazy renditions giving the album room and space to breathe.

Songs like “Anywhere I Lay My Head” and “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” sound like lost hits of the ‘80s. The drum machines, synths and happy-go-lucky feel can definitely atone to that. They are upbeat and catchy songs that nicely juxtapose some of the forgettable songs. Part of the problem — very plainly — is Johansson’s voice. Even if she had the beautiful pipes to flesh out a few gems, her voice is bland and insensible. Songs like “No One Knows I’m Gone” and “Green Grass” are down-trodden, dreary songs with no drive and very little — if any — emotional connection.

This isn’t a horrible album by any means, but it also isn’t very good. Sitek has done an astounding job of creating misty atmospheres and it’s these small touches that aid the album in becoming an interesting listen. The lone original, “Song for Jo,” shows some sure potential on the horizon but that potential is mostly lost on these troublesome covers. Sure, the two songs that David Bowie lends his wonderful chops to (“Falling Down” and “Fannin Street”) are easy highlights but he brings more soul to these two songs than Johansson brings to the entire album and that’s not a good thing.