I love Scarlett Johansson, the actress. She’s my favorite. Woody Allen likes her too, so I like to think I have good taste.
What I didn’t know was–up until a couple of years ago–that she is, in addition to being an actress, a singer and musician. Now I know what you’re thinking. When big-name stars* have a solo music career, it’s always poppy and shitty and awful (save for Zooey Deschanel’s superb She & Him, though that’s not a solo project).
There is now an exception to this rule. Scarlett Johansson’s music is unconventional, distorted, and full of raw emotion. The vocal talent isn’t unlike Zooey Deschanel’s (who my friend Shelby worked with, shameless plug for that HILARIOUS video here). Her collaborations with Pete Yorn remind me of the great Serge Gainsbourg/Bridgette Bardot collaborations (which Yorn himself admitted he was going for).
She’s made unconventional choices, ones to be applauded in this day and age. She forewent the conventional debut album, mostly covering Tom Waits songs with the help of David Bowie. Yes, you read that right. The reviews were initially mediocre, but improved with time, with Pitchfork calling it–a year after its release–a “better-than-anyone-realized drug-pop swooner”. Johansson then moved on to Break Up, her collaboration with Yorn, depicting a breakup through close harmonies and distorted acoustic indie pop melodies.
However, the song I’d like to discuss today is her cover of “Bullet” by an indie rock band called Steel Train, a fairly unknown act which has toured with Tegan and Sara, Ben Folds, The Get Up Kids, Silversun Pickups, O.A.R. and Barenaked Ladies. To be honest, I haven’t heard the original version of the song. But the lyricism is brilliant, so I’ll remark on the last lines of the chorus:
We are the last generation of hope
And I wouldn’t mind if
Together we died alone
Solitude and solidarity, in the last generation of hope–two completely dissonant ideas, but ones that fit so well together. It doesn’t make sense, but neither does life, and Johansson’s choice to tackle these fairly large conflicting ideals that define our lives, much like Vicky (Rebecca Hall) did in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, displays an incredible maturity from such a young artist.
Her arrangements and harmonies kick ass too. “After all we’ve lost / I swear I’ll never *let* go” gets me every time with the harmonic, dynamic structure, in which she breaks everything down in order to build it back up again (instrumentally speaking), reflecting the dissonant and distorted structure of the lyrical elements of the song itself.
Right-click to download: Scarlett Johansson – Bullet (Steel Train cover)