5 out of 10: Meander, meander… Oh Scarlett, how I wish you were mine.
Pete Yorn got his break writing the soundtrack to the Farrelly Brothers’ film Me, Myself & Irene, and it’s perhaps those links to the film industry that landed him the job of a lifetime: writing an album for Scarlett Johannson to sing on.
Yorn conceived of Break Up as an update on Serge Gainsbourg’s recordings with Brigitte Bardot. The passion of the relationship between Gainsbourg and Bardot, details of which Gainsbourg would sordidly reveal in his dotage, seeped into the recordings that were the equivalent of a French film on SBS: replete with sex and nudity, but artfully so. Conversely, Yorn’s collaboration with Johannson is more American teen flick: the everyday kid daydreaming of going home with the prom queen.
Yorn is another folksy, sensitive balladeer with an acoustic guitar in hand who sings nondescript songs in an anonymous, breathy, contained voice. The first track, Relator, is certainly hummable, but from there things turn decidedly humdrum. The songs meander inoffensively at a mid-tempo pace, an electronic flourish here and a pleasant string arrangement there, without anything memorable to speak of going on. What’s most surprising, though, is that Johannson’s voice is the most memorable accompaniment to Yorn’s lacklustre music. In fact, Yorn does the album a disservice by singing so much and using Johannson’s raspier vocals as an accompaniment rather than the central focus. Where Johannson chanelled Nico on last year’s album of Tom Waits covers, Anywhere I Lay My Head, Hope Sandoval seems the inspiration on Break Up, and her artful vocals reminiscent of such hipster starlets demonstrates why Johannson continues to be the indie pin-up girl of our times.
No one will still be listening to Break Up forty years on from its release as people still do Gainbourg and Bardot’s Bonnie and Clyde. That’s not to say Break Up is terrible — it’s not — but Pete Yorn ain’t Serge Gainsbourg, nor is he likely to ever get into the pants of the more famous actress singing by his side.