Let's take a moment to set aside the months of mockery and premature backlash leading up to the release of Scarlett Johansson's first album—an 11-song collection dominated by Tom Waits covers—and cast it in a different light. Imagine Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio creating an avant-garde easy-listening tribute to Waits. Ambient soundscapes build slowly, adding and losing elements like tinkling bells, tinny drum machines, and twangy guitars. On those terms, the album has its problems—tracks like "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" sound like late-'80s dance music of the most disposable kind, and the sum effect is kind of sleepy—but it still plays as an interesting experiment.
The biggest problem with Scarlett Johansson's debut is that it features Scarlett Johansson's singing. She isn't a traditionally talented vocalist, which in itself can be fine. (Waits wouldn't exactly tear it up on American Idol either.) But she isn't much of an interpreter, either; she brings the flat, throaty tones of the heavily drugged to songs that beg for passion. With different material, her minimalism might work in her favor. The single original, a smoky, Mazzy Star-recalling track called "Song For Jo," swirls her limitations into the mix, suggesting that she might have songs to sing someday. Just not Tom Waits' songs.