Whatever Scarlett did was gonna polarise people. Before anyone heard a note, some were gonna love it and others were gonna hate it. If she went the obvious pop route she would have been ridiculed as just another ambitious celebrity cashing in on herself. ‘What’s next, a perfume or a lingerie line?’ But no one expected this – a covers album. And of all the artists to cover…Tom Waits (?!) That’s pretty ballsy. How does one improve on, or take his songs in new directions? Can it even be done? The answer is yes (kind of). This album endeavours to render his songs in an expansive (Daniel Lanois-like) soundscape. Plus she’s got some cool guests – namely Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and David Andrew Sitek (TV on the Radio) handling guitar and production duties, and David Bowie adding vocals on two tracks. Pretty cool. Now, Scarlett’s not the greatest singer in the world. But it plays to her brusque strengths, and somehow works to create a damn good album. I like that she’s not afraid to have her voice lost in the atmospheric mix – and everything is serving the whole. When I first heard Scarlett was coming out with an album, I (unfairly but justifiably) thought: ‘How boring’. But I like that it confounds expectation – from the outset. The first song, “Fawn”, is an instrumental, and it serves to acclimatise you to the world you’re about to enter into. One could even expect Nick Cave or Cat Power to start singing. The sound is ragged and textured, yet delicate at the same time. We hear Scarlett for the first time on “Town with No Cheer” and she laments the song through a lovely crash of fatalistic sounds. And it just continues to surprise you with “Falling Down”, “Fannin’ Street”, “Song for Jo” and by the time you get to the music-box lullaby of “I Wish I Was in New Orleans” you’re thinking: This is pretty f&#king cool. As it starts, “No One Knows I’m Gone” sounds like (The Velvet Underground’s) “Venus in Furs” – and that’s never a bad direction to take things. The album is an acquired taste perhaps, but that’s only because they’re trying to do something different. (It’s certainly ambitious, but I wouldn’t say pretentious.) And the album deserved more attention and praise for that alone.
~ DECOY SPOON