Album Review: Scarlett Johansson, “Anywhere I Lay My Head” (2008)

The announcement of Scarlett Johansson‘s foray into the music world had a sort of “shock and awe” effect on me.  I’m a huge fan of Johansson’s acting (I’d even go as far as saying I have a little bit of a girl crush on her)- I own a majority of the movies she’s acted in, simply because I love her as an actress.  I’d never heard her sing before, so the prospect of an upcoming album seemed odd to me, but as a fan, I was also pretty excited.

Finally, Anywhere I Lay My Head was released in May 2008, and Johansson had made her music debut.  The album is a collection of covers of Tom Waits songs, which was another strange choice, in my opinion.  I’ve never heard a Tom Waits song in my life (I feel like this may be blasphemous for some reason; I apologize, and  I’ll work on it) and I wasn’t sure why anyone would have their debut album be a remake of someone else’s songs, however, I wasn’t going to judge anything before I listened to the album myself.

The first, second, fifth and tenth times I listened to Anywhere I Lay My Head, I was utterly disappointed.   I suppose the idea of rerecording Tom Waits songs seems interesting, but either the producer (David Andrew Sitek), selection of songs, or Johansson’s talent (or lack thereof) are to blame- the disc is a dreadfully bland collection of dull songs and poor singing.

The disc begins with Fawn, an oldtimey-sounding instrumental piece.  It begins quietly enough, but soon a fanfare of loud, dissonant instruments are added in- resulting in an unnecessary, weak start to the album.  Town With No Cheer picks up where Fawn left off with the instruments, and then finally leads way to Johansson’s vocals.   I was incredibly surprised by her singing voice the first time I heard it; her vocals are very deep and throaty, and just, frankly- unattractive.   In a way, it almost sounds like she’s trying to imitate a man’s vocals (maybe Wait’s?).   Her vocals are so bad that they completely distract from the lyrics.  The music is so downtrodden, that paired with Johansson’s vocals,  has the effect of a funeral march.

The whole album basically goes on in this manner.  Title track, Anywhere I Lay My Head, has Johansson singing with a lighter timbre to her voice, but she still really struggles with the singing.  Her vocals, yet again, distract from everything else on the track, and as a whole, it’s just a very sad effort.  Meanwhile, songs like Green Grass and Fannin Street continue on with the dreary vocals and singing- creating a long collection of dull, poorly sung songs.

Goldene Kamera 2012 - Scarlett Johansson 2

There are a few bright spots.  Or, less dim spots, at least.  Falling Down was the lead single and fares a lot better than the other songs on the album.  Johansson’s delivery is more upbeat and light this time around, and her voice, though still deep and strangely hoarse sounds a lot better.  I think the hardest thing about listening to the album is imagining this voice coming from Johansson- it’s so entirely different than her speaking voice, and unlikeable.   Anyway, the song is a decent enough pop tune and was an obvious choice for a first single, as it’s the most commercial song on the album.
I Wish I Was In New Orleans has a softer sound, and is a bit like a lullaby.  Johansson’s vocals get lost in the production, but this is actually a good thing.  Meanwhile, No One Knows I’m Gone appears as the only track on the album with a change in sound.  Gone are the dreary piano and strings- instead, we’re introduced to drums and tambourine, giving the track a nice, midtempo, indie feel.  Song For Jo arrives as the only original track on the album- co-written by Johansson herself.  The lyrics are interesting enough (“Do you remember how we’d fallin’ asleep on the bathroom floor/Wasn’t always pretty on the white tiles/Cool as the sound, of your daddy’s house/Wake abandoned /Smoke out the windowed floors, from your daddy’s house”), and the sound is a bit more lively than the others on the album, but at this point, it’s all just a bit too late.

Scarlett Johansson’s debut album was a harsh disappointment.  The songs all seem to run together into one big, uninspired, lifeless mess.  Johansson’s singing voice borders on being horrible at times, and I wonder who thought it would be a good idea to offer her a singing career.

Stick to your day job, Johansson.

Rating: 256px-1_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Fawn
2. Town With No Cheer
3. Falling Down
4. Anywhere I Lay My Head
5. Fannin Street
6. Song For Jo
7. Green Grass
8. I Wish I Was In New Orleans
9. I Don’t Wanna Grow Up
10. No One Knows I’m Gone
11. Who Are You


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