Just wanted to post some thoughts on some stuff thats been ticking over in my brain since reading Matt’s lovingly typed Tom Waits appreciation the other day, most notably the alluding to his willful ignorance of that Scarlett Johanson album, Anywhere I Lay My Head.
It’s not that I wholeheartedly agree with the appropriation of pioneering and original music by an artist such as Waits, who is still making engaging and creative music, brilliant enough on its own – as Matts original post will no doubt attest. I too have felt that familiar wince at hearing material you love being used to further the career of others via association alone – no matter how well intentioned. I’m looking at you Los Campensinos…
However, I did want to share my thoughts on the said record which i think is not only a slight landmark in pop-cultural phenomena, and a definite item of long lasting curiosity, but also just a really cool musical experience! So.
On initial listen to the album its very clear that this is a larger musical project than an idle rendition of Ms Johansson’s favourite Waits tracks, the first track doesn’t feature any vocals on it, acting more as an introduction to producer Dave Sitek’s massive orchestral sound that will be the project’s real bread and butter. It is also clear that use of her name is slightly misleading in the way that this music is a lot more about him; his ideas, his contacts (contributers include David Bowie, Nick Zinner and various members of TV on the Radio).
Without wanting to get into too much detail, the tracks themselves are mostly rousing and moving in a way in which your ears constantly pick out new cool things happening; Falling Down is a particular example of this, firstly its a great song with Johanssons deep vocals, whilst seeming secondary in the mix, are belted out with enthusiasm. There’s that lovely analog bass hum and plodding grand beat that lovers of the last TVOTR album will recognise, and from there it carries on – wow, listen to that lovely blackpool organ sound! Is that a banjo? Holy shit, thats David Bowie on backing vocals! It really is! You get my drift…
I suppose the issue for some is the album’s sole credit to Johansson, the girl on the pages of the booklet hanging round some trees in mildly suggestive poses. I think that its in the nature of anyone who might be interested in the material therin to be automatically wary and cynical of this. What is this crazy Indie / Hollywood synergy package? Surely they are not trying to pull a marketing ploy like this to one as clued up as oneself? One is practically an Intellectual, one listens to Tom Waits records don’t you know… Well, yes, they are, they’re just asking you to once believe that it might not be such a bad thing.
You are culturally aware and they recognise this and wish to reciprocate by offering you this package. Lets not forget, it is a package; it is as carefully considered and image concious as baby kissing in politics. You are having confirmed this idea that an actress such as Scarlett Johansson works with Terry Zwigoff and Sophia Coppola out of her choice (it’s not) and that maybe she actually is one of those characters she plays, her life is all gauzy pants and hanging out with Bowie and My Bloody Valentine. Just like Natalie Portmann puts her name to a charity compilation featuring Thee More Shallows and The Shins and a million boys across the globe go a bit giddy and start to believe that maybe she is that wonderful character out of Garden State and there must be more like this out there (there’s not).
In conclusion, just check it out (not just this, but… everything), I’m not asking you to swallow it whole, that would be awfull. But there are interesting things in there once you let go of the saturation that is your own knowledge of whats going on.
Another really good and very similar idea has happened before: Check out some of the genuinely brilliant multi-lingual pop of Bridgitte Bardot!