Too slight to encourage repeat plays, but occasionally charming enough.
Mike Diver 2009-09-16
While its ambition was admirable, actress Scarlett Johansson’s first (released) foray into long-play recordings – her Tom Waits covers album of 2008, Anywhere I Lay My Head, recorded alongside TV on the Radio’s in-demand studio-head Dave Sitek – was marred by a single, significantly pertinent shortcoming: the girl can’t sing that well.
Break Up is no follow-up, featuring as it does nine original tracks penned by Johansson’s not-so-new partner in musical crime (this was actually recorded back in 2006), New Jersey singer-songwriter Pete Yorn. Well, the use of ‘crime’ is perhaps harsh, as there’s nothing too offensive about this well-crafted collection; it may be far from memorable, but there’s a lightness of touch employed which stirs thoughts of another actress-meets-musician pairing, She & Him. Like M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel’s Volume One of last year, Break Up treads alt-country territories without ever daring to deviate from well-established templates.
Ultimately it is Johansson’s presence that knocks a few points off this album’s score, if there was one down there. Blackie’s Dead could be a lovely duet - featuring Yorn on fine, lovelorn form - but the actress can’t carry the same weight of emotion in her flat-lining voice. It is better suited to the buzz of I Am the Cosmos, but with Yorn relegated to back-ups the song soon finds itself a victim of its own safety – with just the slightest shift of sound, the track could have been elevated from filler-standard fare to euphoric album highlight. An opportunity missed.
Overall, Break Up feels like precisely what it is: the tentative first steps of a fledgling vocalist encouraged by a workmanlike but unremarkable artist sure to benefit from the association. Its arrangements are too slight to provoke repeat plays, but occasionally charming in their directness; the lyricism is largely standard affairs-of-the-heart stuff, sometimes articulated with a real sense of sincerity but often marred by Johansson’s out-of-place tonal deepness. If the girl was just a little higher, register wise, the overall impression of this collection might be greatly improved – there’s simply not enough contrast.
A briefly diverting curio only, Break Up isn’t worth investigation unless you’re either a hardcore Yorn fan or seriously obsessed with Johansson – and if you fall into the latter category, HMV stores nationwide have been requested to hand your details over to the relevant authorities.