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Scarlett Johansson Anywhere I Lay My Head Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

Let critics bray, but one suspects that this album will, in ten years, be a treasured...

Chris Jones 2008

Actors making music, what a cheek eh? The crimes are many and varied. Bruce Willis' soul monstrosities? Keanu Reeves' sub-grungers, Dogstar? William Shatner's remarkable thesp-psych classic, The Transformed Man? We do love to laugh and point at such abberations. Yet why should we? Surely musicians and actors share many similar traits, if only the need to show off in public. So before we talk about Scarlett Johansson's new album let's remember that it's a thin line between this and David Bowie mincing around in tights as the Goblin King in Labyrinth.

Which brings us to Anywhere I Lay My Head. For it features the Dame himself on backing vocals (Fannin Street, Falling Down). It's been a few decades since he lent his voice to others like this (Lou Reed, Mott The Hoople etc) but a very servicable job he does too. And what of Johansson? Well, you probably know by now that this album consists of ten Tom Waits cover versions and one original. What's more it's ten fairly left field Waits tracks from albums like Alice, Bone Machine and even Small Change, all performed and produced as if it were a Cocteau Twins or My Bloody Valentine-era product. Confused yet? Believe me, you will be.

Much has already been made about the double-tracked, bathed in reverb vocals of SJ. Aha, say detractors, she obviously can't sing! Well, yes, it's hard to tell here, but frankly it matters not. What's more if this was some obscure Canadian indie act's debut not a soul would focus on such a detail. What IS apparent is that she has a distinctive tone that suits these arrangements down to the ground. TV On The Radio's Dave Sitek (a man almost as ubiquitous as Danger Mouse these days) slavishly recreates those early 4AD days with ticking beat boxes, cavernous strings and chiming musical boxes. Each song is totally re-versioned; a distant ghost of the jazzy, wheezy originals. And (here's the controversial bit) it actually works. It's Tom Waits for the post-industrial age and works best as one whole piece. From the dreamy waltz of Fallin' Down to the nursery rhyme tinkles of I Wish I Was In New Orleans, if you just let go and allow Anywhere I Lay My Head to carry you away you'll be hooked.

Let critics bray, but one suspects that this album will, in ten years, be a treasured obscurity that was wrongly condemned. Be cool, and dig it now.

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