She & Him
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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She may be the New Girl on television, but Zooey Deschanel is getting to be an old pro at this music thing. Any complaints about a Hollywood starlet interloping on indie rock’s heralded ground have long since died away, or at least they should have, since Deshcanel and indie maestro M. Ward are now on their third go-round with their retrolicious project She & Him.
There is an admirable honesty in the way that Deschanel and Ward have titled their albums in numerical volumes, because they have pretty much covered the same ground on all three of their releases to this date. Volume 3 is the newest because the number says so, but you could interchange it with either of the first two and get the same effect.
There are a few subtle variations to be had here as Deschanel tries to stretch out her songwriting boundaries, but the problem is that she doesn’t sing these changes of pace nearly as well as the ones in her wheelhouse. As a result, the tasteful disco of “Together” or the herky-jerky tempo shifts of “Snow Queen” don’t land.
Better for the duo to dance with the types of songs that have brought them this far, which means lush production and spare but effective guitar work from Ward and languidly catchy melodies from Deschanel that allow her creamy vocals to breeze right on by and soothe any frazzled nerves that the listener might have. It’s an effective formula, so there’s no need to mess with it.
It helps that Ward can mimic any backdrop that’s required, like the Buddy Holly rumble of “Sunday Girl” or the girl-group sass of “Somebody Sweet To Talk To.” The choice of cover material also shows off the pair’s affinity for the old stuff, as Deschanel takes a winningly vulnerable shot at the Mel Carter oldie “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me.”
When Volume 3 soars above its status as just a nice summer soundtrack are the moments when Deschanel lets some deeper emotions break through the carefree demeanor of the songs. The second half of the album features a couple of downbeat slow tracks in “London” and “Shadow Of Love” that effectively balance the chirpy mood.
“I Could’ve Been Your Girl,” meanwhile, is bittersweet pop perfection. Seemingly flip lines like “You could’ve been my four-leaf clover” are grounded by the palpable ache in Deschanel’s voice as she sings the refrain. With a song this good as the centerpiece and plentiful simple pleasures to be had elsewhere, it’s OK that Volume 3 is just like the first two She & Him discs. As a matter of fact, bring on Volume 4.