Music Review: Scarlett Johansson, “Anywhere I Lay My Head” (Rhino)
Because Scarlett Johansson is an actress whose notoriety as a singer is mostly tied to the “Saturday Night Live” skit “Deep House Dish,” her debut disc of Tom Waits covers, “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” is being met with outsized hostility. In truth, Johansson lent her vocals to a classicist tribute to 4AD records’ gauzy Gothic aesthetic, sequenced by 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell and produced by TV on the Radio’s David Sitek. If it had been credited to Watts-Russell’s This Mortal Coil, “Anywhere I Lay My Head” might be heralded as a work of resurgent genius.
Because of the preponderance of aural haze, Waits fans will likely find little to love — songs such as “Fannin Street,” “I Wish I Was in New Orleans” and “Falling Down” are just frameworks for Sitek’s atmospherics. In these multi-tracked ethereal settings, Johansson’s vocals never have to rise above dreamy, Liz Fraser-like vagueness, and “Anywhere I Lay My Head” is suffused with it. For many fans of 4AD artists Harold Budd or Dead Can Dance, this could be a major selling point.
As such, “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” is the true standout, a lush dance track worthy of Cocteau Twins’ more energized moments, and with its clanging garbage dump percussion, “Green Grass” is most redolent of Waits’ work. Johansson supplies just one instrument in Sitek’s orchestral synth cacophony, which must make “Anywhere I Lay My Head” puzzling for celebrity watchers who probably thought they would be getting nothing but propulsive club mixes from “ScarJo.”
— George Lang
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