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A Timely Experiment : Johansson and her Mirrorball Oddity
on May 29, 2008
Any record released by an 'actress' becomes a 'must-own' for me, because strangely, the 'genre' has given me a lot of good music. I for one, am very thankful that Milla Jovovich released her superb album "The Divine Comedy" in 1994, even though she was ripped to shreds by the press at the time. When the album came out and sounded like "the lovechild between Tori Amos and Kate Bush", critics finally had no option but to join the bandwagon and heave praise upon Milla.
However, for every Milla Jovovich rarity, there are a string of 'actresses' who have turned toward recording music, some with spectacular results : Charlotte Gainsbourg and her amazing "5:55" (2007), Goldie Hawn and her folk-pop album "Goldie" (yes, this actually exists), and Zooey Deschanel's masterpiece "Volume One" with her band She & Him (2008). Of course, there have also been missteps, such as "Babywoman" by Naomi Campbell, "Carmen Electra" (1992) by Carmen Electra (ironically, this is a rap album), and Emanuelle & Ultra Orange (by French Actress Emanuelle Seigner).
So, to which camp does this album belong to? I hesitate to give this a five star rating, because it feels too short and the production does drown Scarlett's voice at places, but it is indeed a solid four star album. Take it from me, I'm a fan of Nine Inch Nails, Fiona Apple, and Luscious Jackson, so if I found something to love here, so can you. The first thing you need to remember though, is that if you come into this experience wanting to negatively criticize the album, of course you will find loads of things to criticize. But taken as a purely auditory adventure, "Anywhere I Lay my Head" is a runaway success.
First of all, I must state that my familiarity with Tom Waits' work is restricted to "Bone Machine" and his epic "Mule Variations". I wouldn't exactly call myself a 'fan' of Tom Waits, but I do enjoy his voice every now and then, and can understand his massive cult following, even though I may not be a part of the tribe. I think this also gave me the opportunity to give this album a fair chance, and here are a couple of my observations. There are numerous reviews here from people who obviously do NOT own the album, but since I actually own it, take it from me:
Scarlett's Voice : If you have at all listened to her debut song "Summertime" (not on this CD), she has a breathy, light voice that is great in the upper register (think of her as a growlier Kirsten Dunst). Whether or not she sings well is a moot point - on some of these songs she nearly walks the line between reciting and whispering, so there are definitely no 'soaring vocals' here. Still, I will give her the fact that she's a decent enough singer, though obviously untrained in any form whatsoever.
Another interesting bit of trivia lies in the liner notes (for those of you who actually plan to buy this on CD) :They say that Scarlett's voice is positioned 'inside the music' rather than on 'top of it'. This lends the music a strange quality, where the singers' vocals are NOT the main focus, rather they serve to compliment the musical arrangements.
The Music Selections : Other than one original, called "Song for Jo", Scarlett pretty much sings well known as well as obscure Tom Waits' songs. "I Don't Wanna Grow Up", is presented here as some sort of heavy 'remix' version, which I did not quite understand (consider it the sonic equivalent of the misplaced "Professional Widow" remix on Tori Amos' Greatest Hits Album). What I especially enjoyed were the songs "Fallin' Down" (which is the semi-hit from this album) as well as "Fannin' Street" - the reason being that both these great songs have backing vocals by David Bowie - and hes actually audible!
One of my musical friends commented that the album sounded like Scarlett wanted to make the perfect Jazz & Blues meets Indie Rock record. While that might be true in parts, this album certainly has its moments of pop sensibility (such as on the amazing "I Wish I was in New Orleans", which sounds like a leftover from the 1990s musical grunge scene. The musical arrangements reminded me a lot of Luscious Jackson, at one point, while Scarlett attempts to also channel a young Janis Joplin, with a rasping growl and inflected tone every so often.
Heres the thing : "Anywhere I Lay My Head" is not a 'light' album. Its also not a serious attempt by Scarlett to be considered as some sort of 'musical genius'. To me, it seemed like a nice musical experiment that has yielded some great results. And believe me, even though many of these songs do not sound great the first time around (man of you might be put away by "Fawn" upon first listen), they all hold up beautifully by the third run of the album.
Also, do yourself a favor and make up your own mind before listening to the many negative reviews here - this is a solid album, its just not meant for everyone.