Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson - Break Up
Nick Lewis 02/11/2009
This is a charming record. It possesses the same sort of summery, tuneful country quality of Wilco's early work. It isn't quite as engaging however, there being neither enough of the alt. or the country, falling haphazardly somewhere in the middle.
I could list a million problems with it. And I will. But don't forget that this is, overall, a very likeable record for all its faults.
The chief drawback of Break Up is, alas, Yorn himself. He has been cursed with a weak voice, something which has been overcome beautifully by singers such as Jeff Tweedy and Neil Young but which Yorn hasn't quite cracked. He sings as if he knows he has a weak voice, and wishes he could sing like Tweedy or Young but hasn't quite cracked it. It's a shame, because when singing together Yorn and Johansson make a lovely couple.
The second major failing of Break Up is the scarcity and treatment of Johansson. Although recorded a full two years before her first full release (the Dave Sitek produced set of Tom Waits covers Anywhere I Lay My Head) her voice is similarly smothered in reverb, delay and artificial 'warmth' as if no one who records her actually likes her voice; which is a shame, as when she is allowed to be heard, she has a wonderful sleepy, jazzy quality to her singing.
The third, and final setback to this album being brilliant is the production. It was recorded in Yorn's garage studio, and although it doesn't sound lo-fi in the slightest, I'm afraid it may have been recorded with Apple Garageband. All the drums and synths sound very standard pre-set, and there isn't much imagination. On the other hand the various guitar, fiddle and banjo parts sound fantastic. There's a guitar riff on Clean that sounds a lot like a Gorillaz riff, and makes me wonder what this would all sound like produced by Damon Albarn - if maybe that would give it the edge that this overly clean production lacks.
As I say, overall Break Up wins you over with its charm, but it could have been a lot better if there was a bit more grit and a bit more Johansson. An interesting sidenote rather than a quintessential album.