Scarlett Johansson came to Pete Yorn in a dream in 2006. According to the new duo’s web site, Yorn woke with a start after a battle with insomnia and a rough breakup, declaring that he needed to make a record similar to Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot. Johansson, at least according to Yorn, is the 21st century equivalent of Bardot.
Fast forward three years later, through Yorn’s album “Back and Forth” and Johansson’s collection of Tom Waits covers “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” and “Breakup” has progressed from a frivolous side project to a full length album available on Sept. 15.
The nine tracks progress from the very beginning of a relationship with “Relator,” a fast-paced, tambourine-shaking pop song that shows off Johansson’s sultry low-register, to “Someday,” an acoustic lullaby goodbye and the eventual breakup.
Being a strong, cohesive album, few songs stand alone well except for the first single “Relator” and “Wear and Tear.” The album suffers from its own complexity and to be appreciated it requires at least three rotations.
Oh, by the way, Johansson’s got some pipes. Johansson’s surprisingly deep, almost baritone, singing voice has a retro, Doo-Wop sound, particularly in “Relator,” which doesn’t necessarily invoke Bardot’s singing but it does sound reminiscent of the time she reigned in the late 50s, and early 60s.
However, some moments in the album are held back by her tendency to sound monotone, as on the backing vocals to the nonsensical “Blackie’s Dead.” The more up-tempo songs showcase Yorn rather than Johansson, most likely due to her lack of vocal power and limited range.
The album has varied influences from the bluegrass infused “Wear and Tear,” to the modern electronica moments in “Search Your Heart.” However, all tracks find common ground in a distinct alternative folk sound. Although identifiable from Yorn’s typical rock-driven albums, Breakup is still unmistakably his writing. Johansson seems to be there for the perfectly cohesive melodies and celebrity draw.
Already facing comparisons to Zooey Deschannel and M. Ward’s collaboration as the band She & Him from various media outlets, the two albums admittedly have a suspicious amount in common: random movie star girl and indie music guy mashup, Doo-Wop fusion and elaborate harmonies. Both projects also began in 2006. However, the singing on She & Him’s album is purely Deschannel driven, whereas “Breakup” is truly a series of duets. Yorn is more than willing to share vocals.
The album wouldn’t have the same genuine honesty if performed solo instead of as a series of duets; Yorn and Johansson are in this one together. They both bring their personal strengths and understanding of the music to present an admittedly odd but impressive album. However, as shown through their separate musical pursuits, this is one pair that shouldn’t push their luck beyond the novelty of the first release.
The full album is available streaming on www.thebreakupalbum.com.
Meghan Dixon can be reached at email@example.com.