While not quite the trainwreck its backlash would have you believe it is, Anywhere I Lay My Head certainly is a bizarre album, washed in a Nyquil slick of David Sitek’s oddball, bombastic production and swirling around Scarlett Johansson’s deep, uninflected contralto. That ten of the album’s eleven songs are covers of deep tracks from Tom Waits’s clattering, throat-torn oeuvre (and the fact that the album features guest spots from David Bowie and Nick Zinner) gives it some degree of credit. The (mostly) blank-eyed, expressionless reinterpretations do not.
At its best (the eccentric, cascading beauty of “Falling Down,” or the whispered, wraith-like throb of the album’s lone original, “Song for Jo”), Anywhere plays like an alluringly weird Baudrillardian pop fantasy — postmodern knobtwisting that attempts to recreate Waits’s ancient, surrealistic inner vistas but ends up with a decidedly drugged and unreal, yet enticing, sonic simulation. At its worst (the electronica spatter of “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”), it’s the sound of a tone-deaf Nico drowning in churning waves of narcoleptic, Vaseline-chunked production tsunamis. Johansson simply lacks the intensity to stay afloat in Waits’s whirlpools of ear-drummed madness.
If she were to lay her head in an album of her own material, she may find a place to call home. But let’s hope she’s just passing through Waits’s Fannin Street.