wears the trousers magazine

pete yorn & scarlett johansson: break up (2009)
August 29, 2009, 6:45 pm
Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: , , , ,


Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson
Break Up •••

Some might say that Pete Yorn is a lucky fellow. There’s plenty of men and women out there who would auction off a kidney and throw in their spleen as a bonus to swap places with a guy who has the ability to roll out of bed one morning after a particularly vivid dream, get Scarlett Johansson on the phone and persuade her to come over and realise his fantasy. In Yorn’s case, his rhapsodical vision was entirely well-intentioned: to create an album in the style of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot’s lightly sparring 1960s collaborations, a song cycle that would chart the decline of a doomed relationship with an entertaining swagger. Johansson agreed, not yet having endured a critical mauling for her audacious Tom Waits covers album Anywhere I Lay My Head – Yorn’s project predates that turkey by a full two years – and laid her vocals down with little fuss, finishing up in just two afternoons. Perhaps it’s the brevity of her involvement, or simply that she’s not attempting to do justice to Waits, but divorce your inner skeptic: Johansson sounds pretty good and Break Up works. Not all the time on either count, but it’s better than anyone might have dared to expect.

Produced by Quincy Jones’s grandson Sunny Levine, Break Up has a similarly nostalgic feel to that of M Ward and Zooey Deschanel’s She & Him debut, but the comparison is awkward. Firstly, would we even think to compare the two albums if Deschanel and Johansson weren’t both Hollywood stars? Probably not. Secondly, Yorn takes a much larger role than Ward does, with songs like the sunny, banjo-led ‘Wear & Tear’ and pop highlight ‘Blackie’s Dead’ giving Johansson a limited scope. Often, when she does show up, it’s almost as if she’s singing from within her counterpart’s heartbroken dreamings. Take their cover of Chris Bell’s ‘I Am The Cosmos’, for instance. Spaced out, sweet and plaintive, this is the woman singing from the downside, confessing to the man what he wants to hear, and the album’s true anomaly in that respect. By and large, Johansson wears the trousers in Splitsville, muddling and dismissing her ex-beau’s feelings, while ‘Search Your Heart’ hints at the involvement of another man. The song’s tense staccato guitar chords chug along as Yorn attempts to win her back, lightened by tambourine and mandolin and exalting in a glorious chorus, rounding off a great first half to the album.

As a song-cycle, Break Up is pretty well thought out. Opener ‘Relator’ sets the scene for an uncomfortable pairing, both professing exasperation despite the jaunty electric guitar. Johansson’s closely mic’d vocals might drop in and out of a Southern accent like a continuity director’s nightmare but the song convinces and provides the album’s most radio-friendly moment. By second track ‘Wear & Tear’, the cracks are already translating into self-destructive behaviours, and desperation soon sets in with the classic country pop vibe of ‘I Don’t Know What To Do’. At times, Johansson is projecting right out of the 1940s, while Yorn’s heightening confusion manifests in the multi-tracked vocals of the chorus. Flourishes of mandolin, piano, homemade percussion and sleigh bells (!), give the song a quirky, interesting edge. Evenly paced, the album gives just enough room to all the stages of recovery. ‘Shampoo’ is the wallowing song, with a beautifully contemplative chorus of “Last thing I remember, things working better” as keyboards fizz in a distant electrical storm, and album closer ‘Someday’ is, as you’d expect, the moving-on number. A sample of muted brass plays over crackling vinyl and sparely picked acoustic guitar, later joined by subtle banjo and shuffling drums, all conveying a sense of resignation as a careworn Yorn creaks out his last disappointment.

Nevertheless, after the pace and vitality of the album’s first half, the final trio of ‘Shampoo’, ‘Clean’ and ‘Someday’ seems a little lacking, with ‘Clean’ in particular succeeding more at aiding the narrative than standing on its own as a song worth attending to. At this point in the relationship, Johansson wants an easy time of it, to not have to confront her guilt, but Yorn is still too damaged. He sounds pretty wet here, to be honest, the balls of ‘Blackie’s Dead’ shrivelled up and gone, so the self-assertion of ‘Someday’ comes as a relief. (She’s just not that into you, Pete, get over it already.) Going back to his original vision, Break Up mostly does Yorn’s imagination proud. The interplay gets a little too serious towards the end to wholly do it justice, but, just as ‘Relator’ imparts, “You can leave whenever you want out.” For her part, Johansson plays the coolly removed ex-girlfriend card well. The role never really requires her to smoulder, and a good job too with her limited range, but this is a more approachable Scarlett, more relat(or)able, and goes a long way to redeeming her musical career.

Alan Pedder
UK release date: 07/09/09; www.myspace.com/scarlettalbum


Album trailer


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

i love this record so much. in shampoo i think the line is “last thing i remember, things were getting better”

Comment by jeffie

Someone know the chords of this song please ??
I don’t find them :s
Thanks !! =)

Comment by Math

[…] Wye Oak – The Knot [Charlotte Richardson Andrews 18/8] 04 Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson – Break Up [Alan Pedder 29/8] 05 Imogen Heap – Ellipse [P Viktor 20/8] 06 Hope Sandoval & The Warm […]

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