Break Up

First bold and underlined rule when approaching the new Scarlett Johansson and Pete Yorn duo disc: forget Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. I mean, remember Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin if you want to. They were great. You should thank them. Jane's still alive. But they don't have anything to do with this record. You wouldn't know that from reading any other review of this record.

With that out of the way, here's to Pete Yorn. He gives Scarlett an easygoing-er setting than the straight-backed declarations of her debut Anywhere I Lay My Head (an unfairly slagged album you ought to own). Back when she had to explain herself to people, the actress complained, "I'm so tired of hearing casting directors ask if I have a sore throat." Yorn casts that "sore" throat against all kinds of soothing things, from adroit banjo ping to polite electronic squishes. He sings along, too, for encompassing warmth in the more copasetic moments of this (strictly for-the-record) couple's coupling.

As you can guess by its title and the distinct, formal shunt between its two words, Break Up isn't going to end well. I used to think it deployed the frustration of talking around a dissolution, not through it, but that's an illusion cast by the lyrics' passive-aggressive causality, two players on opposite sides of the heartbreak game board cutting deep but never straight. "You/can/leave/when/ev-/-er/you/want/OUT," prescribes the female voice on the first cut. "I cannot trust you this time," answers the male voice at the end.

Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos," positioned two-thirds through, clears up the rhetorical tangles, although not the suffering. The singers each lament that they give themselves superpowers at night but get up to mortal after sunrise. Scarlett and Pete sound like ordinary (albeit poetically heartbroken) people. That's the scariest and most essential thing.

Album title: Break Up (2009)
Artist: Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson
Label: Rhino
Songs: (1) Relator (2) Wear And Tear (3) I Don't Know What To Do (4) Search Your Heart (5) Blackie's Dead (6) I Am the Cosmos (7) Shampoo (8) Clean (9) Someday

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