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Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson Break Up Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Too slight to encourage repeat plays, but occasionally charming enough.

Mike Diver 2009

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.

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