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Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson: Break Up

C+
Album: Break Up
Label: Atco

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Rarely does one manifest the real-life Scarlett Johansson by dreaming about her, yet that’s supposedly how Pete Yorn wound up recording a bunch of duets with the actress. In late 2006, Yorn awoke with a vision—Serge Gainsbourg and Bridget Bardot recast as a scruffy singer-songwriter and a pouty redheaded ingénue—so he made a phone call, and an album just sort of happened. A slight set of nine jangly lovelorn songs, Break Up is more Americana pop than Gallic come-on and—thankfully—not so much a vanity project as it is an often charming and organically flawed collaboration. The recording actually preceded Johansson’s 2008 collection of Tom Waits covers, Anywhere I Lay My Head, and so finds her a bit rougher around the vocal pipes, playing a husky Jenny Lewis to Yorn’s alternating country twang and smooth croon. The two do best when adhering to a format where imperfection is an asset, as with the upbeat acoustic rollick of single “Relator,” or on breezy barroom sing-along “Shampoo.” Break Up typically stays within its means—neither polished nor overeagerly roughed-up—with a couple of misses, including an ill-advised trip into the epic with Chris Bell’s “I Am The Cosmos.” Mostly, the record suffers from the same symptoms most flings do: In time, the dreaminess dissipates, leaving those involved searching for something with a little more weight to it.