Scarlett Johansson - "Falling Down" (Anyway I Lay My Head)
As a public persona, ScarJo is a pouting cipher, a forbiddingly expressionless white screen on which her counterparts can project their fantasies. This provides a steady stream of work in cinema and a stunning variety of reactions from the audience. And yet, that void can be a difficult thing to maintain, as the conflicting interpretations pile up and the ego swells.
And so, with a crushing sense of inevitability, ScarJo line-extends her brand, using her massive, massive budget to bulk up on the safest nerd cred available (TV On the Radio’s Dave Sitek produces; the core material consists of Tom Waits covers; members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Celebration appear; David Bowie chimes in… JT LeRoy must’ve been on vacation) and creating a sweeping, shoegaze-y aesthetic, an unremarkably appropriate landscape of epic emptiness. This results in a golden-throat record mired in stylish alt-ambient mediocrity. The arrangements are too lush, and the songs are too innately powerful, to facilitate cathartic schadenfreude. There’s nothing terribly wrong with the record – it’s offensive only insofar as it is profoundly inessential.
Anywhere I Lay My Head falters on Johansson’s vocals, or lack of a distinctive voice. The sullen detachment that can be so captivating as a set of behaviors doesn’t do anything as a tonality alone – it telegraphs all of the clumsiness and none of the alluring unavailability. Waits is both an obvious choice for critic-approved inspiration and a much more challenging dance partner than, say, Sofia Coppola – ScarJo gets a courage badge for covering someone with such piercing charisma. But she adds nothing to the songs save for an awkwardly throaty delivery reminiscent of Nico’s, a wavering pitch and a sense of unfocused ambition.
Johansson’s anti-charisma doesn’t translate to the audio medium. At all. Not in an exciting way, not in an offensive way, and not in a funny way. The star hires the most reliable names in the business to protect her from shame, and they succeed – the dented anthems and the waves of noise are a sufficient distraction from the emptiness at the center. If the record was inspired by hubris, there’s nothing particularly engaging about that hubris, and it’s antithetical to everything that makes Johansson’s career run. Lacking the smug absurdity of a William Shatner or the childish abandon of a Juliette Lewis, she throws the most elaborate, star-studded party of the year and seems to be the only one who’s not into it. The cheese cubes are beautifully arranged, but for entertainment, she offers little more than Tom Waits karaoke as Ulrich Schnauss might conceive it. Like the star, the record is state-of-the-art pretty and, at its core, surprisingly boring.
More than any movie-star record, Anywhere I Lay My Head resembles Britney Spears’ brilliantly produced, eerily vacant Blackout. However, while Spears is frightening for myriad reasons, the scariest thing about ScarJo is that she might not have anything worthwhile to hide.