by carl wilson

Scarlett Letter

scarlettjo2.jpg

For the first time in a while, I have a record review in The Globe and Mail today, of the new Scarlett-Johansson-sings-Tom-Waits joint, Anywhere I Lay My Head. It is not a positive review. I still like her in movies though.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, May 20 at 4:31 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (34)

 

COMMENTS

I don't know Us magazine's readership demographics, but "wearing tracksuits to the supermarket" describes the middle class.

Posted by john on May 30, 2008 4:59 PM

 

 

"tracksuit-wearing Us Weekly readers"? what a weirdly gratuitous stereotype (in the midst of a weirdly gratuitous point, since the idea that a Waits cover album isn't a cash grab or a hits bid goes very much without saying). Is it my imagination or are there often these strange "trailer-trash" sorts of slurs around Johansson - due to her looks? - even though she grew up comfortably, the daughter of a Danish architect and an American producer in New York.

Posted by zoilus on May 30, 2008 9:25 AM

 

 

Ahh! Yet more critical discourse:

http://www.villagevoice.com/music/0821,scarlett-s-wild-years,446710,22.html

And yet Stacey Anderson's piece is an incredibly well-measured take on the album.

Points for discussion:

"...what makes Johansson's decision to take on a 59-year-old groaner's songs defensible is that her voice also sounds like she's smoked her friends down to the filter."

"This is clearly not a cash grab, or a play for the mainstream: A tinkling music-box take on "I Wish I Was in New Orleans" will enthrall neither tracksuit-wearing Us Weekly readers nor dive-bar degenerates."

"Sitek recognizes her limitations and wisely pairs her with Waits's most frankly plaintive lyrics until the emotion drips through; he directs in close-ups."

I think Anderson's last point is the most salient. It's what makes this album work and more importantly, what makes this album worth it.

Posted by Chandler on May 26, 2008 12:34 AM

 

 

Hello all -

Funnily enough, I bumped into Carl at a house party and we conceded to...well, I'm not sure exactly. I certainly DO NOT feel that Gerswhin is an instigator of any form of "cheery froth". (What would that make "Porgy and Bess" then?) That is a terribly dismissive sentence, especially for someone who loves Gershwin as much as I do. Even a song like "You Can't Take That Away From Me" masks the supposed duress of the end of a meaningful relationship within a happy melody. I think it's actually one of the saddest songs ever written, flashes of memory interspersed with the sentiment "though we may never meet again on this bumpy road to love..." At least, that's how I felt at age nine.

Regardless, I think this discussion has been extremely thought-provoking for me, though it hasn't changed my opinion on the album. What exactly qualifies good singing? It seems like Carl and Jody say "emotionality" regardless of qualifiable chops. The projected "ennui" of Sistek's muddled production and Scarlett's blaze droning might enact aesthetic supplication for a feeling - any kind of feeling. Or perhaps there's a subtext for a frankly bored collection of Tom Waits covers that we're not just hearing. Or maybe there's a correlation to "Lost In Translation." Or maybe Johannson just has really nice hips and should stick to three-way makeouts in Woody Allen movies.

I definitely think Nick Cattuci goes overboard in his NY Mag praise for this record, but the fact that it's so polarizing (Metacritic features ratings that range from 80 to a 20 percent writeup by Tim Perlich - though that's not surprising) is probably a testament to the fact that it's at least interesting, or noteworthy. It's certainly a gutsy way to take on Waits, full of deliberate and thematic choices. I think it says something about lost innocence. Scarlett is trying reprise moments in musical history that are long-gone. "Anywhere I Lay My Head" doesn't sound ultra-modern but faded and wistful. For a "not Miranda July" she's managed create something remarkably contrary to popular music today. So maybe she's just a Juliette Lewis.

Posted by Chandler on May 26, 2008 12:02 AM

 

 

Chandler,

For what it's worth, I don't blame you for associating Gershwin with cheery froth. Not only did he write quite a bit of it, but that's how modern pop culture -- from Rod Stewart to Scarlett Johansson to Star Trek to Martin Scorsese movies -- typically presents that style.

I appreciate reading your perspective. Thanks.

Posted by john on May 25, 2008 12:31 PM

 

 

Here's a fairly strong "backlash to the backlash" defense, in Chandler's spirit:

http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2008/05/the_genius_of_scarlett_johanss.html#more

As he says, Johansson should get full credit for hiring Sitek. She's clearly a smart person and she made her choices here as thoughtfully as she generally seems to select her movie roles - in fact, Waits and Sitek are art-house creatures much the same way most of her directors have been, so she's got a consistency of taste that shows a strong personal sensibility (even if it's a fairly just-left-of-centre one, rather than anything strikingly original - she's hardly Miranda July, for better and worse).

Again, though, that doesn't make the record listenable, at least to someone whose ear is very strongly drawn to singing if there's singing going on. Maybe other people could ignore her more easily.

By the way, folks - "What does Gershwin have to do with Tom Waits?" How about "everything." There are very few songwriters of his ilk who are so strongly connected to the American-songbook tradition - although Waits is of course your classic omnivore, emulating every sound and style that catches his imagination, his 1970s work, and many of his post-Swordfishtrombones tunes too, is full of efforts to write ballads in that vein, only with a Beat twist. Check out for example his One from the Heart soundtrack, which is heavily Tin Pan Alley/Broadway-showtune styled.

Posted by zoilus on May 24, 2008 4:21 PM

 

 

Although I have issues with its orientalisms, I actually really, really like Lost in Translation. I don't think there's anything wrong with letting the viewer project emotion into an artwork, in fact I think it's one of the all-time great strategies - you have to manipulate the viewer into doing it; it doesn't happen automatically, or at least not sufficiently so. Coppola, Johansson and Murray all collaborate beautifully (along with whoever the superb cinematographer is) to that effect. I agree Coppola's other movies seem underdone, but LiT seems to me done to exactly the right temperature and absolutely no higher - so that it comes across as restraint rather than laziness. Or so I see it.

I think the album shoots for a similar (a/e)ffect but misses it, and it's a kind of all-or-nothing aesthetic direction.

But like Jody, I didn't think it was a terrible idea in advance.

Posted by zoilus on May 24, 2008 3:34 PM

 

 

Chandler, I don't know what you're talking about. What's a "bluesy, apathetic standard"? And what "cheery" Gershwin songs are you referring to exactly? Sure, there are tons of bright, uptempo Gershwin tunes. "I Got Rhythm" is cheery. But Gershwin's ballads -- the idea that these were "formerly cheery" before they were rescued by jazz singers is ridiculous.

About Lost in Translation: the laziness I was referring to is Sophia Coppola's primarily. It's pretty easy to depict characters who are emotionally numb and drowning in ennui. To me, Lost in Translation feels undercooked, a sketch, not a fully realized story. Lots of moody long shots and blue tones and meaningful silences meant to convince the audience that there's some there there.

Incidentally, I'm not "distracted by...the terrible idea of Johansson doing Tom Waits." I don't think it's terrible idea; would have been a fine idea if she knew how to sing. I give her a lot of credit for choosing great songs -- she's a good curator. I love that she went for the post-Swordfishtrombones Waits instead of the beatniky earlier stuff.


Posted by Jody on May 24, 2008 3:49 AM

 

 

Chandler,

Thanks for the link to the "Summertime" vid. I really disliked her version -- "sexing up" seemed to be the goal . . . except, well, the song's a LULLABY! Sung to a CHILD! I mean, if the words mean anything. Gershwin's fantastic harmonic accompaniment is waay melancholic. The melody IS simple, but the emotional nuances are potentially endless. Scarlett doesn't get it.

I did enjoy the videos people posted to her recordings of "Falling Down" -- a song I hadn't known -- and "Anywhere I Lay My Head" -- not the videos, which I didn't watch, but the songs. Nice arrangements, and I thought her affect-less singing worked fine. Seemed like pleasant background music -- exactly the point of much indie rock and adult contemporary, it seems to me, especially the types of indie songs and adult contemporary songs used as background songs for Jody's "lazy" movies. "Ennui" isn't a bad descriptor. "Elegant melancholy" is how I think of a lot of this music. "Affectless cool" is a similar take.

Posted by john on May 24, 2008 12:50 AM

 

 

Here's the URL to Scarlett's rendition of "Summertime":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5F_yCFtFn24&feature;=related

It's quite musical, warm and inviting, very different from any of her Tom Waits songs. I can't decide if it's digitally altered or not but it is proof that she can, in fact sing.

(Also Jody: what's your opinion on singers and "Summertime" itself? Some reviewers have claimed that it's one of the easiest songs to "get away with" because if you're a chanteuse, it's so easy to simply sex it up.)

Posted by Chandler on May 23, 2008 7:33 PM

 

 

Here's a link to Scarlett's rendition of "Summertime".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5F_yCFtFn24&feature;=related

The quality of her voice is much more warm and inviting, clearer and more musical than any of her Tom Waits songs. I can't tell if it's digitally altered or not though some reviewers have had this is one of the easiest songs to sing.

Posted by Chandler on May 23, 2008 7:30 PM

 

 

RE: Jody. There's no way in hell Tom Waits has anything to do with George Gershwin, far from it. I was only citing that example because it was originally proposed that Scarlett do an album of standards, with a cover of "Summertime" already performed on this celebrity compilation of lullabye's, "Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars." (And if you think Scarlett's bad, the album also features songs from Jennifer Garner, John Stamos and Teri Hatcher...it is celestial themed. Cringe here: http://music.barnesandnoble.com/search/product.asp?z=y&EAN;=81227332822&ITM;=4)

Still in terms of bluesy, apathetic standards - what about all of the jazz singers who took on Gershwin, rendering those formerly cheery showtunes, sad and lonely? Tom Waits songs are standards too, but they're already frought with melancoly. Johansson takes it to the next level: now they're frought with enui.

Both "Lost In Translation" and "Anywhere I Lay My Head' have the same polarizing force for people...they challenge an audience who wants emotions readily apparent for them, presenting a character who isn't capable of feeling anything and isn't self aware enough to understand why. A lot of people get upset with Johannsson's beautiful philosophy major, who feels empty and neglected because her boyfriend ignores her on an all-expense paid trip to Tokyo. Her situation isn't sympathetic, she has everything at her fingertips (much like the resources available to Johannson for this record), and when she interacts with all these glamorous exciting rock stars, and spoiled movie actresses, she lets herself fall away. I think both "Lost In Translation" and this album are an act of undoing. I'm not saying that Johannson is particularly good at letting her guard down, but when she does emotionally resonate - "Song For Jo", "I Wish I Was In New Orleans", "Falling Down" - it hits the listener in a big way. The best moments of Sofia Coppola's film were when both characters allowed themselves to feel vulnerable, that's why that kiss at the film's conclusion is such a powerful catharsis for the viewer. There's no pivotal moment on the album like that, only flashes of emotionality. And I don't know if they're worth it necessairly, but I do know that they exist.

The "projected emotional subtext" isn't projected at all. It's there, it's waiting in the wings...we're just too distracted by Sistek's production and David Bowie cameos and the terrible idea of Johannson doing Tom Waits to really listen for it. I wish there was a phrase or moment I could pinpoint for you when I started feeling connected to her as a singer, but I can't. She slips through your fingers all the time.

Posted by Chandler on May 23, 2008 7:22 PM

 

 

Jody,

your formulation, "the affectless cool [indie movies & by extension indie music] serve up in place of character development or narrative or, you know, recognizable emotions," is insightful and suggestive. I wouldn't call that "laziness," though; I'd call it the Zeitgeist.

Urban, educated liberalism -- the demographic of indie -- doesn't want to recognize its emotions. Who can blame us in the age of Bush? Collectively, we've failed, massively. Individually, we're all competing while we face an unknown, possibly terrifying future, while simultaneously not wanting to deal with our relative privilege. Affectless cool is both strategically handy and emotionally understandable under the circumstances.

Posted by john on May 23, 2008 1:58 PM

 

 

PPPPPPPPPPPPS What's up with all these women laughing at the idea of Scarlett getting brained? Is that fourth-wave feminism? There's some dark primal shit happening here...

Posted by Jody on May 23, 2008 1:09 PM

 

 

The Rolling Stones' "Route 66" is terrific too. They picked a good one for their style -- insouciant! My high school band covered their cover; it was one of our "hits." (I didn't sing it.)

Probably dozens of good examples out there, few of them bright & cheery. That's what's wrong with the Rod Stewart! Too bright & cheery.

Posted by john on May 23, 2008 1:01 PM

 

 

Last point, not about song standards: Carl, I think you really nail it in your review when you call the record a musical version of Lost in Translation and write that viewers "project emotional subtext" onto Johansson's characters. One of the things I dislike about American indie movies--and Lost in Translation is Exhibit A -- is their laziness: the affectless cool they serve up in place of character development or narrative or, you know, recognizable emotions. Anywhere I Lay My Head is a musical analogue. There are probably a lot of indie records that fall into that category, come to think of it.

That isn't a dig at Sitek btw -- I love the production.

Posted by Jody on May 23, 2008 12:58 PM

 

 

Jody, I meant that few rock singers ever come close to touching the standards' depths when they cover them, and was thinking specifically of Rod Stewart's albs of covers, which severely challenge my poptimism -- they're obviously hugely popular, and they pain me to hear. "Most" may have been an overstatement. The Cole Porter tribute album from the early '90s has lots of great interpretations -- Annie Lennox, the guy from Fine Young Cannibals; the Disney tribute alb too, incl. Waits's "Heigh Ho" from "Snow White". So yeah, "most" was wrong. Lots of examples -- James Taylor's "Getting to Know You" is great; Carly Simon's "My Funny Valentine" is great; from earlier, the Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes for You" and Etta James's "At Last" beat the trad. singers, and, to take it back to Gershwin, Joplin's "Summertime" brings the reality of the NEED for comfort more than any other. "Nothing will harm you" -- we can only hope! Makes me get teary just thinking of it -- Joplin is awesome and brings out the song's awesomeness, as does the whole band.

Thanks for calling me on that! Anti-Rod-Stewart-ism run amok!

Posted by john on May 23, 2008 12:40 PM

 

 

x-post John!

This talk of standards might seem off the point, but it isn't really. It's clear that Waits knows and reveres standards and pre-rock pop vocalists. It's one reason he writes the songs he does and sings them so well. Scarlett would have done a better job with "I Don't Want To Grow Up" if she'd listened to Sinatra singing "Someone to Watch Over Me."

That said: John, I hate when people caricature the Ye Olde School, but there's no need to, like, bash rock singers with the Great American Songbook. One of the reasons rock and roll happened is that there were "depths of fear" (and other depths) that the Tin Pan Alley/Broadway/Hollywood songwriters just didn't care to explore.

Posted by Jody on May 23, 2008 12:25 PM

 

 

Chandler, no offense, but "bright cheery album of George Gershwin songs"?! Maybe you should listen to some Gershwin? I revere Tom Waits, but let's keep things in perspective. Waits doesn't get near the Gershwin Brothers when it comes to sad 'n' wistful. They were frigging geniuses of melancholy! It's not a contest, I know, but...just saying.

I wrote a rather glib review of the Scarlett record -- which was further glibbened in the editorial process -- but the main point I wanted to make was that Johansson shows no talent (or interest) in interpreting the songs, no dramatic flair: in short, no actorly skillz. The record made me think I'd overrated her as a screen performer. I wanted Anywhere I Lay My Head to be good, and have nothing against Hollywood bombshells who moonlight as pop singers. It makes sense -- the two jobs have a lot in common. But Scarlett Johansson ain't Doris Day.


Posted by Jody on May 23, 2008 12:04 PM

 

 

I'm glad you mentioned Gershwin, Chandler, because it's struck me how the Waits song she chose for the title alludes to an Arlen-Mercer tune -- a great one -- "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home."

It's from a movie I've never seen, 1946, and Wikipedia tells me that it's sung by a female character of "easy virtue." (Would that virtue were easy!) The first line is "free and easy / that's my style." I only know it from Judy Garland's recording, from '56 or '57, and freedom and ease get mingled with something like existential terror. (Others may hear it differently, but she always made any punk parody of pre-rock pop singing irrelevant.)

Last strain of the song:

Cross the river, 'round the bend
"Howdy stranger!", "So long friend!"
There's a voice in the lonesome wind
That keeps whispering, "Roam!"
I'm going where a welcome mat is
No matter where that is
'Cause any place I hang my hat is home


It's the "no matter where that is" that gets me. She has no idea. The wind is lonesome, and it whispers to her. Roaming is her destiny, her fate.

The great standards often have unexpected depths of fear. Few rock singers ever come close to them.

Posted by john on May 23, 2008 11:46 AM

 

 

Also - Ann Powers likened her voice to Marianne Faithful but I think she sounds more like Ian Curtis. Sistek and ScarJo should team up to do a Joy Division covers album! No, Neutral Milk Hotel! I think Pitchfork would explode.

Posted by Chandler on May 23, 2008 2:46 AM

 

 

Carl -

I agree with Ann Powers (and the Village Voice for that matter) that Scarlett's voice is used as a not even centrifugal force in Dave Sitek's production. It's sometimes massaged into the crevices of his instrumentation, headed with echoes and fuzz..sometimes falling by the wayside in lieu of something that much weirder.

It's an odd voice too, almost mannish, too low, as if she's grasping from the bottom registers of her throat. (Especially on "Town WIth No Cheer" which is too low for her, the phrasing is almost undetectable.) I liked this quote from the liner notes: "Whenever notes Dave couldn't reach I could, and whatever notes were so deep that my voice fell out, Dave could reach them." I think this "falling out" happens on occasion throughout the record. ("Who Are You?" is a token example.) But on "Falling Down" this deadened blaze makes the whole new wave production that much sleeker. Her harmonization with Bowie on the chorus is apt and dare I say it - impressive.

Do you really think she "fails as a vocalist on every level" in your deepest heart of hearts? Even with those brief glimpses of emotionality you've mentioned on "I Wish I Was In New Orleans"? That's an incredibly strong statement to make - and I like terrible voices too. (I had an Adam Green phase.)

Ann Powers acknowledges that "when a famed beauty goes outside her comfort zone, it's typical to dismiss the effort as vanity and question the motives of her collaborators." This seems to be the common critical approach for this record and it's really unfortunate because it's the easy way out.

RE: Waits. The man was never hurting for exposure, that's for sure. Regardless, I think it's fair to note that it's easy to feel propritary of musicians you feel an emotional connection with, sometimes at the detriment of the music. This is not an album that pays homage to Tom Waits appropriately. I don't feel like it's inflected with anything I would commonly associate with Waits at all, with possibly the exception of "Green Grass" that takes on a circus, swamp shimmer...and is also one of the most embarassing songs on the album. (It actually makes me cringe, because I think it's her fairest impersonation of Waits actual singing style.)

The songs I love most by Waits are his ballads - "Waltzing Matilda", "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You", etc. I feel protective of those songs too because they feel so intellectually connected to me and what I was feeling when I first listened to them. I don't beautiful people to take things that ugly people relate to. (Present company excluded of course. In retrospect, I'm not quite sure what that sentence means) But I think this album reflects Johannson in an interesting way, she's not afraid to sound dirty, muddled, mannish, cold. It's not a bright cheery album of George Gershwin songs. It's a town with no cheer.

Posted by Chandler on May 23, 2008 2:33 AM

 

 

And to reinforce Sasha's point - kids might be more likely to discover Waits from the fact that one of his songs has been the theme song to The Wire for 5 years, or from his song on the soundtrack of Shrek 2, or on the soundtrack of Jarhead, or his four songs on the Enron documentary soundtrack, etc.

Posted by zoilus on May 22, 2008 4:18 PM

 

 

Chandler, the context is unavoidable because, as I say at the top, nobody would have produced this record if SJ weren't who she is, because she fails as a vocalist on every level - and this is coming from someone who has a very very elastic set of standards for vocal performance (I mean, Pere Ubu is one of my favourite bands - David Thomas can't sing but he sure as hell can perform vocally.)

Scarlett can write well enough - I think the song she penned is a fine song. But her performance of it bores the hell out of me.

The Tom Waits record Dave Sitek's made is a neat record. I'm sure Johansson likes it too. But her contribution to it, unfortunately, ruins that record. Ann Powers makes the point in her LA Times piece about it (which is longer and more balanced, I acknowledge) that if it had been packaged under a band name, with Scarlett as just the singer rather than the main artist, one would hear it differently. In retrospect I wish I'd made a bigger deal out of how good Sitek's production is, and maybe bumped up the star rating. But hell, I never trash things, and my irritation was a sincere reaction.

As for the "creamy skin" bit - I wouldn't have brought it up except that I do think there is a parallel between her vocal approach and her acting technique, and that it's misapplied on this record. Taking "creamy skin" out of context misrepresents what I was saying.

Posted by zoilus on May 22, 2008 3:50 PM

 

 

Regarding the P.S.: Except that Tom Waits, unlike the bands you (and I) discovered through movies, is still recording, touring, making it to the front of MetaFilter and Digg, and appearing on Conan O'Brien and the Daily Show. He is starring in a Terry Gilliam film in a years' time. The other day I was visiting the alternative high school I went to and some of the new kids who probably weren't much older than 16 were listening to Earth Died Screaming. I don't think he needs any help from Scarlett, you know?

Posted by Sasha on May 22, 2008 3:05 PM

 

 

Hey Carl:

My concerns with your critical reception mostly stems from the signifiers you employ. So what if Scarlett has "creamy skin" and an inflated sense of entitlement? She's an actress doing a covers album...essentially that's a given.

Okay - she's no Janis Joplin, but she's no Jada Pinkett Smith either. (Yes, it happened.) "Anywhere I'm Going To Lay My Head" has an incisive emotionality in the chorus, that echos all those sludgy guitars and moody synths. And I too agree, "I Wish I Was In New Orleans" has a resonancy because it's the only time Scarlett gets to sing unfettered by the insane instrumentation (Tibetan dog bowls? Really?) And I might be in the minority here, but I actually thing the best song on the album is the only original "Song For Jo." There's a sexy laconic ease to the way she half sighs out "smoke out the window floors." It's very appealing, effective and exciting to hear . Like Charlotte sang it in her Tokyo bathtub while smoking Malboro's - Margot Tennenbaum style.

There's no reason to outright trash this album and declare that somebody bean ScarJo in the head before she sets up to a mike again. That's unfair to Dave Sitek (who's produced I think one of the most provocative albums of the year so far). Sure I'd rather hear "Small Change." But who wouldn't?


P.S> Also - I think most people fail to recognize that the best thing for "your" Tom Waits is a beautiful blonde actress doing an entire covers album. The generational gap has shifted, there's no way that 15 year olds are going to discover "Downtown Train" any other way (and I don't think Rod Stewart is helping either.) With the acceleration of commonplace media, the best thing for Tom Waits is for Scarlett's cover of "Fannin' Street" to make it onto a pivotal scene of "Gossip Girl". I discovered the Pixies through "Fight Club." Joy Division and Tears For Fears through an extended DVD cut of "Donnie Darko." It's really embarassing to admit it, but I'm sure I'm not alone. Scarlett Johannson is the only way my younger brother is going to eventually seek out "Rain Dogs" and watch Tom Waits in "Down By Law." And I'm okay with that as long as he does.

Posted by Chandler on May 21, 2008 10:54 PM

 

 

Nancy, fair point. The selection and space given to the album weren't my doing, though - the editors specifically asked me to review it. At first, as a Waits fan and a Johansson fan, hoping it might be good, I said sure. Then, when I'd heard it, and the paper had already run a small item about it, I suggested we review something else instead. But they really wanted this review. Since they have often been very accommodating when I've wanted to write about small/obscure bands etc., I didn't mind meeting them partway in this case. People were curious about this record and that's not a terrible thing.

Posted by zoilus on May 21, 2008 5:40 PM

 

 

Famous and beautiful is right -- and, more than that -- she's The "It" girl of Now. Your comments on her acting were to the point, Carl.

I'm curious to see if a woman reviews the album.

The Tanya Harding "kicker" is interesting -- as an audience reaction test. Interesting that the female commenters seem more comfortable with it than the male. (I shared Jody's reaction.)

How we desire and despise our celebrities!

Posted by john on May 21, 2008 4:56 PM

 

 

Hi Carl,
Of course I forgive you everything because you've made nice comments about my daughter Maddy Wilde's band Spiral Beach. And of course the line "as if she'd been hit on the head with a blunt object before she got to the studio" was a lovely little gift at the end.
The thing is - you complain that a celebrity has been able to do this album. And it sounds like a bad album. But you gave her three columns on page one of the review section,six columns on the next page, and a colour photo. So you become part of the problem, and I become a found-in, in a sense, because of course I read it. Because she's famous and beautiful.
And if a local band releases a fabulous album, (or a bad album) it's not likely to get this kind of space in the Globe and Mail. And I understand that. But of course if you give the band the space, the band will become a little bit famous and maybe move a few of the last cd's on earth.
I know it's more fun to write about the bad stuff, but I always hope for ethics. Ha ha.
I just took a second look at her picture and I certainly give her credit. Unless that was photoshopped, it must have been really uncomfortable for her. Poor lamb!
Please tell me your editor made you do it!

all the best,
Nancy White
(no longer in any kind of loop, but mother of two daughters in bands, the aforesaid Maddy, and the glamfolkmusictheatrewoman Suzy (Stone Fox))

Posted by Nancy White on May 21, 2008 4:08 PM

 

 

carl, i LOVE the ending of your review. made me laugh out loud.

haven't heard the whole album, but "falling down" is monotone and bad. forget the celebrity aspect - it's just pure badness.

Posted by Julie P on May 21, 2008 11:39 AM

 

 

PS - By the way, I do think it's possible to defend the album and enjoy it on the grounds of its audaciousness. That's probably a level on which my personal life-long attachment to Waits' music gets in the way. Those are *my* Mona Lisas they're smearing finger-paint over. If it was a set of, say, Laura Nyro covers, I might be easier on it. So there's some bias involved.

(I'm not sure I'd want to hear Joanna Newsom doing an album of Waits covers either, though, Chandler!)

Posted by zoilus on May 21, 2008 11:28 AM

 

 

That kicker came off a little harsher than meant, maybe. I do not advocate or condone violence against Scarlett Johannson. It was a joke.

Chandler - I really think her intentions are all well-meant and I don't think she's flippant about it. What she's not is realistic about her own ability to carry this off. I should say that I think the album is worth hearing at least once, for Sitek's arrangements - and the one song where S-Jo sings in a higher register, and there's less going on musically, "I Wish I Was in New Orleans," almost works emotionally, even though her hold on the melody is so tenuous.

The reason Deschanel "gets off scot free" is that she can sing the songs she's singing. Whether the songs are worth it or not is another question - I like a couple of them and don't have any problem with refabricating Carole King, but I agree they're not exactly shaking up anyone's idea of music. But there's nothing hubristic about it, because she's not fantasizing she's capable of anything she's not. And she probably wouldn't, really, because it's not like Zoey Deschanel is some huge star. There's a consistency to this.

Posted by zoilus on May 21, 2008 11:24 AM

 

 

Carl, I also wrote a very similar review. I'm surprised by the vehemence of your kicker, though. Wow.

Posted by Jody on May 21, 2008 8:51 AM

 

 

Your review is scarily uncanny to mine in EYE...inevitible Kevin Shields references and all. But I didn't think it was terrible. People might question the idea of a blonde pneumatic indie babe taking on Tom Waits, but it's cooler than her doing George Gershwin standards (not that she could sing them.) Zooey Dashanel and M. Ward's album sounds like a bunch of refabricated Carole King songs, plus covers of the Beatles and Smokey Robinson - and yet she gets off scot free. Is it that she's trying to be too deliberately cool that offends you, or is it that Tom Waits covers should only come from someone like Johanna Newsom? Or Charlote Gainsburg? I agree that the liner notes make Scarlett come off a little flippant (which is how she sounds in every interview she does), but I honestly feel that there's a viable musicality in both the instrumentation and the vocals. It may not be the way we want our indie babes to sound, she's a little groggy and hollow, but I don't think it's an album that should be passed off as another celebrity doing something we hope we'll forget.

That being said, the only person who should cover "I Don't Want To Grow Up" is Joey Ramone.

Posted by Chandler on May 20, 2008 10:35 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson