Monday, September 28, 2009

Break Up... if only they had.

Not so long ago I had the opportunity to see a screening of Julie and Julia before it was released... it made me wish I was Superman. If I were the "man of steel" I could fly around the earth fast enough to turn back time, find Nora Ephron in her editing bay, and use my ex-ray vision to destroy the Julie half of the movie. Listening to Break Up, the new release from Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson, made me want to don that cape again.

The changes that need to be made on Break Up aren't as black and white as those necessary on Julie and Julia... but something needed to be done. The songs, for the most part, are engaging enough but the vocals and the production are... well... uneven. Here's the surprising part, it's Scarlett Johansson's work that shines. That's something I never thought I'd say after hearing her 2008 album, Anywhere I Lay My Head. On that earlier work she sounded distant and disengaged. On Break Up she sounds very present, very innocent and very sexy all at the same time. Pete Yorn, on the other hand, sounds like he settled for scratch vocals. My guess is that he would defend the approach as a purposeful juxtaposition of male and female... hard and soft... rough and smooth. Unfortunately, the end result is simply sweet and sour.

The production is understated, which fits the material, but on almost every track there is a sound or a riff or a lyric that takes you out of the moment. It could be the line from the song Relator (lifted from The Beatles', All My Lovin')... or the just a bit too loud and distorted guitar that pops up repeatedly throughout the album... or Yorn's ragged vocals that break the spell... but the magic always seems to get marginalized.

Here's the real tragedy... this album could have been a great one. Instead, it's a mildly engaging record that makes you wonder what Scarlett Johansson might have done with similar material... and no Pete Yorn.

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