Album Review: ‘Break Up’ | Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson
From Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot in the ’60s to Cobra Starship and Leighton Meester this summer, it’s nothing new for musicians to generate some buzz by collaborating with high-profile actresses—or even someone slightly less than high-profile (what, that Babyshambles duet with Kate Moss didn’t go so well, Pete Doherty?). Acoustic singer-songwriter Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson claim that their new album “Break Up” is “a valentine” for Gainsbourg and Bardot’s sexy French-pop album, but they come off as a bad imitation of M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel’s phenomenal “Volume One,” released last year.
[audio:http://www.studlife.com/files/2009/09/scarlett.mp3]Click play above to listen to “Relator,” a song from Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson’s newest album.
The album was recorded in a garage in 2006, two years before Johansson’s lackluster album of Tom Waits covers was released, and it is meant to chronicle the rise and fall of a relationship. “Relator,” the first track, is surprisingly lovely in its sunny beat and electronic-yet-country vibe. It completely contradicts Yorn’s normal acoustic sound and is a very pleasant, catchy surprise. Unfortunately, the album quickly goes downhill as the surprising qualities of the first song fall away and both talents cling to their respective clichés: Yorn as an acoustic singer-songwriter and Johansson as a husky ingénue. “Wear and Tear,” “Blackie’s Dead” and “Shampoo” all run together in the same mediocre vein. |
When they do branch out from this sound, such as the Sonic Youth-esque chant on “Search Your Heart” or Yorn’s tortured falsetto on “I Don’t Know What to Do,” the result gives the album much more depth and resonance. But these moments don’t make up for the sleepy quality of the rest of the album. Johansson has not quite found her sound yet and instead borrows from everyone else: a little Amy Winehouse here, some Zooey Deschanel there, even some Laura Marling thrown in for good measure—and never measures up to any of them. The result just makes her bland and forgettable. Yorn, who received critical acclaim for his debut “musicforthemorningafter” and hasn’t gotten much attention since, stays consistent to his own sound, but he too comes off as unimaginative.
Together, they fail to achieve any sort of chemistry, save for the second-to-last track, “Clean,” where their husky voices combine in the haunting plea: “Would you talk to me?/ I want everything to be so clean.” The only other track that comes close to matching “Relator” is “Someday,” the closer. A jarring drum beat accompanies Yorn’s strong voice, and Johansson’s floats harmoniously in the background as they repeat “Our last word” over and over until their voices fade away, signaling the end of the relationship. Yorn and Johansson’s duet is strongest in birth and in death—and with a few exceptions, it’s best to just skip the stuff in between.