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Scarlett Johansson Record Deal in the Works

Monday, October 16, 2006

Scarlett Johansson | 'Diddy' | 'All the King's Men'

Scarlett Johansson Record Deal in the Works

Scarlett Johansson and Lindsay Lohan are about to have something in common.

Scarlett, I am told, has signed a deal to make her first record. "Scarlett Sings Tom Waits" is being recorded now and through the winter, with a possible release next spring from Rhino Records' recently reactivated Atco label. The eventual release date will be coordinated with Johansson's movie schedule.

Fear not, though. Unlike some other recent pop tarts, Scarlett — who turns 22 next month — can actually sing; she is no Paris Hilton. Also, her choice of material is a tad more sophisticated. She's making a whole album of songs by Tom Waits, one of the premier singer-songwriters in the business.

Let's just hope the whole thing won't get "lost in translation." But my spies say that Scarlett has a lovely, whispery delivery that carries a tune nicely and is suited to Waits' unusual lyrics.

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No word yet on the producer, but she'd be smart to listen to Rikki Lee Jones' fine 1993 album, "Traffic in Paradise," for inspiration.

Is this just the beginning of more young actresses jumping into the diva pool? It's not like Paris Hilton is going to one-up Scarlett by doing a tribute to Leonard Cohen, but more reasonable ideas could include: Gwyneth Paltrow, who performs admirably in the new movie "Infamous"; Liv Tyler, who has the genes from parents Bebe Buell and Steven Tyler; and Nicole Kidman, who did have a hit in England with Robbie Williams.

And don't count out Lindsay. Her days with Tommy Mottola may be over, but she's only 19. A comeback is still possible.

'Diddy' Dubs Dubya 'Evil' on New CD

Sean "Diddy/P. Diddy/Puff Daddy" Combs is back. I told you in this space back in July that he was hard at work on "Press Play," his new album, and now, here it is.

It also includes an opening rap that actually makes something of a political chant sung over the dramatic instrumental keyboard intro from Tears for Fears' soaring "Head over Heels":

"You can't defeat me / I defy all odds of sabotage / I survived Reagan / I survived the first Bush / They were back when my mom's givin' the first push / Thank god for my life / I come through the womb / Into the evil of Part 2."

This isn't too surprising. "Press Play" is the only pop/hip-hop music album that contains a thank you to Ron Burkle, the grocery chain magnate/Democratic fundraiser and Bill Clinton patron who invested millions in Combs three years ago for his Sean John line of clothing.

Burkle was also the driving force behind Combs' and Citizen Change's voting drive to register Democrats in time for the 2004 election. All of the abovementioned parties shared a private box at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.

The Burkle thank you comes second, in fact, right after Andre Harrell, the man who gave Combs his start at Uptown Records, and each of those follows thank yous to Combs' family including the twins his girlfriend, Kim Porter, is carrying.

Combs is loyal to a fault, that's for sure. There's even a shout-out to Jacob Arabo, aka Jacob the Jeweler, recently indicted for money laundering. Who cares what people think?

"Press Play" is almost notable more for the paperwork it comes with than its music. It includes a 20-page, four-color booklet with hundreds more thank yous to everyone Combs knows, including dozens of radio deejays and music directors (clever), plus two "blow in" inserts: a perfume strip insert for Combs' Unforgivable men's cologne and an ad for Bad Boy Records paid for by Macy's sponsorship of the Sean John line.

There's so much paperwork here that it takes a few minutes to get to the music.

If I were Diddy, I'd feel about Justin Timberlake the way Little Richard used to regard Pat Boone. Everything Combs has done, Timberlake has appropriated and reconfigured as his own. To a new generation of watered down hip-hop fans, Combs will seem like he's ripped off Timberlake. How ironic.

"Press Play" owes as much to Timothy Mosley (aka Timbaland) and William Adams (Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas) as Timberlake's current freeze-dried soul on "FutureSex/LoveSounds." Maybe this is why almost everything that is played on the radio these days sounds the same.

Of course, there are guest stars, samples and cameos. The late Lou Rawls, plus Betty Wright, Tears for Fears, South African artist Johnny Pate are all there whether they like it or not.

Jamie Foxx, Christina Aguilera, Brandy, Cee-Lo, Kanye West, Mary J. Blige, Keisha Cole and Nicole from the Pussycat Dolls are in the mix voluntarily. The idea is you can press play, but you'll never believe what you're going to hear.

Combs takes all this mish-mosh and makes the most of it. As the Ed Sullivan of hip-hop, he's nothing if not a brilliant juggler of many disparate ideas, and he's smart enough to surround himself with the best people to achieve the strongest results.

Sometimes he falters: Rich Harrison, for example, repurposes the horn solo he lifted from the Chi Lites for Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love," turned it into the annoying "Get Right" for Jennifer Lopez and brings it back ever more shrill in the Mary J. Blige number "Making it Hard."

But Diddy's secret weapon is Mario Winans, the son Marlon and Vicki Winans and nephew of Bebe and Cece Winans.

Mario Winans has undeniably supple R&B genes: he can craft a catchy melody and create something original, a rarity in hip-hop.

In that way, Combs has his other main competitor, Kanye West, beat: "Press Play" contains a bunch of new songs, instead of merely grafting existing recordings by Shirley Bassey or Curtis Mayfield onto synthesized soap opera.

Winans has a couple of credits on "Press Play," including a writer's contribution on two songs that rise way above the usual hip-hop slough-off.

"Last Night," featuring Keisha Cole, has the catchiest hook ever to appear on a Combs album. "Thought You Said," with Brandy, turns Timberlake on his head as a Michael Jackson tribute with a cleverly counter-pointed rap.

In "Partners for Life," Combs interrupts Jamie Foxx's delectable solo with a rap in which he presumably addresses Kim Porter, mother of his son Justin and the upcoming twins and takes a swipe at Jennifer Lopez's perceived abandonment of him after a nightclub shooting: "You got me on some lay off stuff/You stood by me through all that JLO stuff..."

All three could be big radio hits, and in the end, that's all that will matter. So let's give Sean Combs some credit. He's tried for something original and in many ways he's achieved his goal.

'All the King's Men' Are Gone

Say goodbye to Steve Zaillian's "All the King's Men." Unofficially, its box office numbers stopped getting counted last week, after 17 days in release. The Sean Penn flick was simply a huge disaster, taking in a mere $7 million. Its costs were put at $55 million, which means it really blew close to $75 million and that may be a conservative number.

As of yesterday, the "King's Men" were left dangling in just a few theaters, according to moviefone.com, with about three in the New Orleans area — the place where it was set, filmed and premiered.

I couldn't find any theaters with actual New Orleans addresses that were still showing it. Of course, the people down there have more important things to do than sit through an uninteresting retelling of a story they know very well.

This was the third movie in 16 years that Zaillian has directed. The first, 1993's "Searching for Bobby Fischer," was small and compelling. The second, 1998's "A Civil War," did better, but each was a flop.

He's a talented writer, of course ("Awakenings," "Schindler's List," "Gangs of New York"), but why anyone let him direct a big budget movie with a lot of stars is something that will be discussed at Sony for a long time to come.

Of course, Sony — which will write this off and move on — knew about "All the King's Men" last year when they shelved it. Maybe they thought like a good wine it would get better with age. Who knows?

Anyway, for James Gandolfini, this marks the umpteenth flop with which he's been associated. He once joked that he jinxed all the movies he's been in.

It's not his fault, certainly, but "Surviving Christmas," "The Last Castle" and "The Man Who Wasn't There" are good examples. Gandolfini's got one coming, too — "Lonely Hearts," starring John Travolta, and opening in January right after the Oscar deadline with indie distribution.

And Sony is sitting on John Turturro's musical "Romance and Cigarettes," which will probably go straight to video. All that may make him wish "The Sopranos" weren't wrapping up right now. But maybe once that show is really over, Gandolfini's luck will change.


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