Though she’s not the first person who comes to mind when one imagines a Tom Waits cover album, Scarlett Johansson proves she’s more than capable of taking on such an intimidating task. Of course, as a successful, mainstream actress, Johansson has faced some doubt and criticism as to whether or not she’d be able to pull it off, but overall, she manages to tackle the job with impressive force. She seems comfortable with herself, for better or worse, convincing the listener to feel at ease.
Johansson enlists TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek to produce Anywhere I Lay My Head, which features guest appearances by David Bowie, Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and members of Celebration. What makes listening to Anywhere a worthwhile experience is the new context of these songs, reworked here into a modern framework, with an ambient, dream-pop aesthetic and soft, feminine vocals. Johansson displays little range, mainly singing from her lower register, sounding not totally unlike Waits himself.
The actress’s smooth, husky vocals make for a stunning version of “Town With No Cheer,” and listening to it repeatedly does nothing to lessen its hypnotic, rather nostalgic effect. Likewise, “Falling Down,” “Green Grass” and “No One Knows I’m Gone” have the same entrancing quality; the problem is all the songs begin to sound repetitive. The challenge for Johansson is confronting and working with her limitations, but she doesn’t seem too intent on perfecting her craft or taking many risks.
The clear standout is “I Don’t Want to Grow Up,” if only because this is one of the only tracks where she does something different, sonically and vocally. Here, the ethereal, folksy aesthetic that pervades most of the album is dropped in favor of a New-Wave ’80s dance sound.
Though by no means is the album perfect, Johansson pulls off the endeavor, and the simplistic, minimalist vocals are resonant. Anywhere showcases Johansson’s passion for Waits – the outcome of which would probably impress the man himself.