Boomkat Product Review:
After months of blog saturation, the much talked about Tom Waits covers album finally arrives, billed by the project's architect and producer Dave Sitek as something that set out to evoke the classic 4AD sound of Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil, while Scarlett would put a "Tinkerbelle on cough syrup" slant on the vocals. Between them, the two main players are pretty well connected, calling upon the talents of David Bowie, Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and the producer's TV On The Radio bandmates Jaleel Bunten and Tunde Adebimpe. A sizeable chunk of the album draws on Tom Waits' more recent discography, with Alice, Real Gone and Orphans all represented, in addition to the more obvious excerpts from Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs. Within moments of 'Town With No Cheer' it's clear that this isn't going to be some idle regurgitation of Waits' back catalogue, with grand studio excess proving to be at least as prominent in the mix as the singer herself. This all works especially well on single 'Falling Down', which benefits from the aforementioned Bowie's vocals, as does an oddly Christmassy rendition of 'Fannin' Street'. Ultimately, and perhaps unavoidably, the album suffers from that age-old problem associated with the covers album: listening to these reproductions only stimulates a craving for the originals, seldom establishing a sufficiently effective reworking to satisfy in its own right - despite the severity of stylistic departure the album might take from its source. Sitek's overwhelming production style might just be the stem of the album's problems: in addition to the sheer textured flashiness of it all, his trademark insistence on double-tracking vocals and setting them back in the mix means that Waits' songs are deprived of that central, authoritative narrator that tends to define them in the first place. Many won't see this as necessarily being a weakness though, and certainly the ambition of the cavernous, dreamlike arrangements does have a tendency to pay off, succeeding on its own terms. The only non-Waits composition on the album is 'Song For Jo', penned by Sitek and Johansson. Tellingly, the song fits the production formula rather more readily than some of the other pieces, and the end product is something very beautiful and very modern sounding. All things considered, it might not be a match for the music that inspired it, but Anywhere I Lay My Head is a captivating enough document in its own right. And another thing: the inlay booklet is uncommonly helpful. In addition to the inevitable photos of Ms. Johansson loitering around up trees in quasi-suggestive poses, there's also a song-by-song commentary from Scarlett and Dave.