by / September 21st, 2009 /

Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johannson – Break Up

 3/5 Rating

(Warner/Atco)

A tidy enough package, this breezy album comes in at just under the half hour and with its neat songs and summery feeling it bears up certain repeated listening, possibly also due to the forgettable nature of much of the music on offer.

Pete Yorn has toyed with conceptual albums before (the first three allegedly form a purposeful trilogy) but the idea for Break Up came to him in a dream (yep) and in trying to find a modern day Brigitte Bardot for his modern day Serge Gainsbourg turned to Scarlett Jo. (incidentally, rumour has it Bardot wouldn’t sleep with Gainsbourg one night until he wrote her a song. He wrote her two, and one was -Je t’aime…’).

Much like her last album, the fair Scarlett doesn’t seize the spotlight. Her vocals, much maligned on her previous album, are husky and understated and try to suit the proceedings here taking a slight stance behind Yorn’s over the course of the album, and merely providing some distinctive background singing on many tracks. In general there’s a whimsical, -side-project’ feeling about the album (think Nina Persson’s first A-Camp album produced in a shed) but it’s the sparse vocals of Ms. Johansson that give the most pleasure.

Opener -Relator’ is perhaps the fastest track, and a good cheery opener with the vocal duties divided between the two parties involved, Scarlett’s tinted with a country & western drawl. The awkward placing of ‘I wrote home every day’ in the song seems neither an obvious Beatles reference nor a bizarre co-incidence that only your reviewer has picked up on but this aside we are definitely uplifted by the finger-clicking melody. -I Don’t Know What To Do’ is a number as mild as Calvita cheese but Scarlett’s breathy appearance 40 seconds in is a pleasure – though the song doesn’t quite fit her voice like a glove. Her voice also lifts the next track but can’t save the dishwatery -Blackie’s Dead’. Personifying whimsy, it’s a ticking clock that keeps the beat on their cover of -I Am The Cosmos’ which, with -Shampoo’, adds up to the two best, most definable tracks with the good lady featuring prominently on both. Though a quiet album, the production means there is always something going on aside from the main singing or music and on headphones it may make you wonder if there is some other music being played in the room.

The album is a hybrid, Scarlett acting as a foil (though perhaps not the most suited) to Yorn’s voice which jumps between fine, bland and a little awkward (like when he stretches one word out for too long, e.g. ‘ Left a record awh-awh-haw-a-on’). Yorn’s songwriting is simple and it’s probably the low-fi, bedroom-produced feel that makes it comfortable to an extent, but memorable it is not. As for Ms.J, well her voice may not be strong, but Scarlett’s tones can drip with many emotions (sexy for sure, but also also lonely and lost) and her first solo album had it put to better use with the Tom Waits songs. Loathe as those of us with barely a spoonful of talent may like to admit, as well as being a pin-up movie star for both the thinking man, and those who don’t think much, she has a lot to offer the music world too. How thoroughly unfair.

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