Wednesday, 21 May 2008

anywhere i lay my head

anywhere I lay my head
I've had a chance to listen to the Scarlett Johansson album of Tom Waits covers now, via iPod. It's a sort of sincere but tragic report.

I'll believe the story from Scarlett that she really likes Tom Waits and thats why she chose his songs for her album of covers. No-one would do that lightly when there's so much pap to choose from. As an enthusiastic listener to Tom Waits tracks (an acquired taste, I'm sure), I'd really wanted to like this and to get some different interpretations.

Sadly, it comes across a bit like a moderately musical friend's attempt rather than a professionally produced recording.

I suppose the agenda creates a combination of tricky vocals, the need for some slightly chaotic sounding accompaniment and ideally a sensible production that is sympathetic to the singer's range.

Regrettably not.

I can't fathom who mastered the production, but on several tracks the band drown the vocals and themselves seem a little muddied. In other places the accompaniment which is alleged to be from a swampy studio in Louisiana seems to be surviving on old Woolworths 1980's Casio organs. Waits might be able to get away with such tricks, but here it just sounds cheesy.

In fact I can't understand how they've managed to make a couple of the tracks sound like 10cc or Pet Shop Boys.

I think this is quite a pity. Tom Waits has a varied and interesting catalogue and there should be some songs in there which Johansson could sing in a way that was flattering to her vocal range and evocative of the the soundscapes which Waits creates. It comes close on "Green Grass" and maybe the David Bowie backing tracked "Fannin' Street", but overall I'm having to listen with too much sympathy rather than genuine enjoyment.

And I do come to this wanting it to be a good album. I'm not expecting a direct comparison with Waits and indeed was hoping for different ways to interpret the songs. My idle thought is to have a quick go at a remix of one of the tracks to see whether something could be rescued. This isn't the idea when one buys commercial CDs and I think the production team should be made to go back and have another go at mastering this properly instead of just putting all the tracks on +6dB with some 1980s compression. Perhaps its a peril of being a fan of Mr Waits. To Scarlett I say, "Thank you for trying".

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