For those of you who thought the all-star duet had jumped the shark around the time Wyclef Jean and Justin Timberlake started appearing on everyone else’s records bar their own, think again. For every heinous rendition of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ or ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’, there’ve been numerous memorable occasions where the formula has paid off successfully, such as David Bowie and Iggy Pop’s Berlin sojourn or any number of Serge Gainsbourg’s much-feted collaborations, his 1967 collection with Brigitte Bardot, ‘Bonnie And Clyde’, proving the main source of inspiration here.
Highly acclaimed New Jersey singer/songwriter Pete Yorn, perhaps best known for the song ‘Strange Condition’ which itself is probably more recognisable by movie buffs than music aficionados having appeared in several celluloid productions, has enlisted the vocal talents of femme fatale actress Scarlett Johansen here, something that cynics would probably counter as being a move to ensure sales rather than quality, but as with her ‘Anywhere I Lay My Head’ collection of Tom Waits covers, the results are surprisingly good.
Here, Yorn has assembled nine songs – eight original compositions plus a cover of Big Star’s ‘I Am The Cosmos’ – into a detailed description of a break up with a previous girlfriend, whom Johansen plays the part of via her vocal narrative. What is quite interesting about ‘Break Up’ is that most of the recordings and indeed, Johansen’s vocal parts actually predate ‘Anywhere I Lay My Head’ by a good two years or so, which while begging the question as to why its taken until now to gain a proper full release, at least disproves the theory that the highly regarded movie star is a one-trick pony pretending to be rock and roll when it suits.
The opening two-and-a-half minute burst of ‘Relator’, already released as a download only precursor to the album, sets the scene for what follows in admirable fashion. Its actually quite a jovial number that lulls the listener into a false sense of security, Yorn and Johansen cooing gracefully to one another and seemingly depicting anything but a relationship that’s on the slippery slide to oblivion. Of course by the time ‘Wear And Tear’ and ‘I Don’t Know What To Do’’s sullen lament’s take hold, not to mention ‘Search Your Heart’ with its “Don’t blame me for your troubles” plea in the middle eight, your ears are left in no doubt that they’re party to one of the messiest fallouts this side of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’.
Conceptually, ‘Break Up’ works thanks to the sum of its parts rather than individual ingredients, and although it doesn’t stick around too long – possibly like Yorn’s ex? – there’s enough substance here to take both its creator’s and guest conspirator’s contributions seriously.