Those Avengers are buggers, aren’t they? Not only are they the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but they can belt out a tune. Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson have both released albums; it’s an absolute travesty that Jeremy Renner hasn’t released an album, judging from clips of him singing on YouTube. Chris Evans showed off his pipes in Not Another Teen Movie, Gwyneth Paltrow had a stint in Glee, Samuel L Jackson likes to sing the blues and Nicki Minaj songs, and Agent Hill is, of course, Robin Sparkles. I have no idea of the vocal abilities of the rest of the cast, but 13 Going On 30 proved that Mark Ruffalo can bust a move or two. And that’s not including actors from other MCU films like Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard. If Joss Whedon ever decides to write another musical special, maybe for Avengers 3, then he has assembled the perfect cast.
But this post isn’t just about Downey and co. This is an exploration of those annoying, multi-talented actors who decide to also release music. I’ve tried to plump for some of the less mainstream releases here, which unfortunately means there’s quite a lack of female vocalists on the list. I’m not sure what that says for the industry, but it’s probably not positive. I’m also leaving out former soap stars, because I could write an entirely separate article about singers who were in Neighbours.
So here are nine male and one female actors’ offerings. Some of the results are excellent, some are awful. But they’re all very famous.
Not only is he Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes, but RDJ is a talented singer-songwriter in his own right. He writes eight of the ballads that appear, with two covers rounding out the album, including an absolutely beautiful cover of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile. Downey’s voice has an unexpected country twang to it, but his music falls in a very strange gap between jazz, blues and folk. It’s quite a niche album, but one with outstanding lyricism and a strong presence. What is clear in every song is Downey is writing and performing each song for himself, rather than to please an audience. You may recognise one of his songs, Broken, from the end credits of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
This might be a little controversial, given the slating it tends to get, but I actually really love Johansson’s debut. It’s a risky move, releasing an album comprised almost entirely of Tom Waits covers, and Johansson’s unique vocal style was bound to be polarising. But for me, it pays off. This is down in no small part to the fact that backing vocals on two tracks are provided by David Bowie, who is my hero. But even aside from Bowie’s contribution, the production of this album is one that I didn’t expect from an actress like Johansson. Frequently experimental, with a husky, haunting voice that sounds almost disinterested; it sometimes doesn’t work, but when it does, it works really well. At no point is this more obvious than in the track Falling Down which combines Johansson’s aloofness with Bowie’s understated backing vocals, alongside fairytale piano sounds and a ukulele moment that is straight out of the Rainbow Connection. And it’s excellent.
World-renowned Handsome Man Ryan Gosling used to be a Mouseketeer, so some degree of vocal ability was to be expected, but his style of music certainly wasn’t. Dead Man’s Bones is a collaboration between Gosling and his friend Zach Shields, along with the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir (which, fun fact, was founded by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers!) After meeting in 2005, and discovering a shared interest in ghosts and monsters, Gosling and Shields decided “hey, let’s write some love songs about ghosts and monsters!” The result is a pleasing mix of various music styles with a unifying theme, from the genuinely creepy Dead Hearts and Buried in Water, to the synth heavy Pa Pa Power and the Patrick Wolf-esque Lose Your Soul, to tracks like My Body’s A Zombie For You and Paper Ships, which can only be described as ‘monster doo-wop’. The kids are used excellently too, and aren’t annoying as kids generally are. Fans of The Conjuring may also recognise In The Room Where You Sleep. Yes, a song by Ryan Gosling was in The Conjuring!
I’ll be honest, Jeff Bridges is my favourite actor of all time, so I was predisposed to love his music, even if country’s not a favourite genre of mine. In all fairness, it is his second, self-titled release that lends itself to country, while his debut, around a decade older, experiments with reggae and rock sounds. It’s because of this that I prefer the first album, but there’s still plenty to love about Jeff Bridges, the track Tumbling Vine being the album’s highlight. Across both albums, and his work for Crazy Heart, Bridges voice is powerful, assured, and melodic, but with that laid-back delivery that makes it unmistakably the work of The Dude.
Poor Terrence Howard. I loved your Rhodey, and was actually really disappointed when Don Cheadle took over for Iron Man 2 (I have come to accept Cheadle in Iron Man 3, but that’s a whole other article.) But no matter how much I love you, it can’t make me like your album. Maybe I’m just not the right audience for “urban country”, because there’s certainly nothing inept about the production, but nor was there anything I can really say I enjoyed, or remembered after the record finished. It was just a thing that existed.
Despite enjoying classic cinematic moments such as “Jared Leto gets his arm cut off in Requiem For A Dream” or “Jared Leto gets an axe in the skull thanks to Christian Bale”, and despite generally liking his face, I’d never listened to 30 Seconds to Mars before now. I’m not sure why either, because his is one of the most well-known and successful transitions from acting to music in the business. There are probably more qualified people to talk about this band, but having just given their debut a quick whirl, I can confidently say that they are talented musicians, but also kind of music that I would actively choose to listen to. Which is a shame, but it’s okay, I still have American Psycho on DVD.
Shatner’s spoken-word debut is an absolute classic and nobody will convince me otherwise. From his demented rendition of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to the gradually-terrifying Mr Tambourine Man, it is one of the most unique achievements in all of music.
I bought Sandy Cohen from The OC’s album for a friend four years ago, but I only got around to listening to it for this article. This 2005 release is an album full of blues ballads perfectly suited to Gallagher’s soulful voice. It’s lovely listening, but by not deviating from the ballads at any point, it can get a little repetitive. That is, until the unexpected cover version of Will Young’s Leave Right Now, which is as awesome as it is surprising.
I love John Barrowman, okay? I love him so much that I own three of his albums, and could easily include Another Side or Aspects of Lloyd Webber on this list. But I chose Music Music Music because it is, quite happily, exactly the kind of album you’d expect John Barrowman to release. From Barry Manilow covers to the gay love triangle of I Know Him So Well (with guest vocalist Daniel Boys) to the group sing-along of Uptown Girl with a bunch of Any Dream Will Do losers, Barrowman performs with an admirable lack of vocal restraint. Stereotypical karaoke love songs they may be, but Barrowman gives them life. That’s not to mention the album’s opening track and only original song, the Gary Barlow-penned What About Us? A genuinely affecting ballad with excellent lyrics, it’s a wonder why Barlow didn’t save it for a Take That release. The only downside to this album for me is some wasted potential. I Know Him So Well appears twice, once with Boys and also a solo version. What is so upsetting is the solo version doesn’t feature Barrowman duetting with himself, which is the kind of thing one would expect John Barrowman to do.
Barrowman’s Torchwood co-star is about as far away from a John Barrowman release as you can get. David-Lloyd’s Blue Gillespie are a Welsh heavy blues group, full of throat-destroying growls and screams, crashing drums and guitar feedback. Frequently, it works, especially on the cover of Portishead’s Glory Box (renamed Gareth’s Box) which retains the feel of Portishead’s original, but with a unique slant. Anyone who remembers Ianto Jones in his neat little suit is in for a big surprise.
(I am saying nothing about the unfortunate font on the EP cover.)
Find Hayley on Twitter!