Released May 7th on Merge Records
The third studio album (fourth if you count the Christmas one) by Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s She & Him is exactly what you’d expect if you’ve listened to either of the previous volumes: Sunny, lovestruck pop songs with a touch of country twang, sounding like they came straight out of a 1960s AM radio. It’s a nostalgic, classically pop sound that’s light, breezy, and easy to get swept up in. The album sounds a touch looser and more casual than its predecessors, as if existing in a state of perpetual summer bliss (though a wintry vibe pops up during the latter half in “Snow Queen” and “London”). Ward keeps a light touch on the knobs, adding just the right amount of sonic detail without ever allowing the production to burden the airy feel of the songs.
It’s hard not to fall instantly in love with Deschanel’s soothing harmonies, especially in slower tracks like “Turn to White”, “Something’s Haunting You”, and “Shadow of Love”. Of course she sounds great on the more uptempo numbers, too, like sprightly singles “Never Wanted Your Love” and “I Could’ve Been Your Girl”. This is her first album since her divorce from Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, and it’s convenient to read lyrics like “I don’t’ want to be your rock in hard times / ‘Cause I’ve figured you out / And you’re not a man who can understand anyone but you” as being about her ex, but they’re probably not. Her best tunes have always been about heartbreak, but never a specific heartbreak. They’re the kind of songs that deal in a universal vulnerability, and in which the singer is just as likely to be careless with emotions as is the target of her jabs.
Of course no She & Him record would be complete without a few covers of old pop tunes. This time there are three: Ellie Greenwich’s “Baby” (1965), Karen Chandler’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” (1952; famously covered by Mel Carter in 1965), and Blondie’s “Sunday Girl” (1979; the cover version here incorporates a verse from the French-language version of the song, as do several of Blondie’s greatest hits collections). On prior albums Ward & Deschanel have covered tunes by The Beatles, The Miracles, The Smiths, NRBQ, and Roy Hogshed/Teresa Brewer. The selections on Volume 3 are all originally sung by women, which sets them apart from the previous cover choices and lets Deschanel step into the shoes of famous female singers of the past and make their tunes her own.
Volume 3 continues the vein of winning simplicity She & Him have previously established. It’s a sound that may come off as overly nostalgic or kitschy to some, but in a landscape of overproduced and hyper-marketed pop it’s occasionally refreshing to be reminded that a perfectly crafted pop song can be simple and classic, requiring little more than a lovely melody.