Less than three seconds into the third record from She & Him - the ingeniously titled Volume 3 - and I’m saddened. Not because a few years ago I thought Zooey Deschanel was the cutest, coolest and most brilliant woman in the world – she’s become a fringe’ed caricature of kook that I now find quite offensive, and that’s upsetting. Not sad though.
What’s sad is that after just three seconds of opener ‘I’ve Got Your Number, Son’ I’m overcome with the heart-breaking fact that no record will ever have that Phil Spector feel again. No matter how much a producer strives for the Wall of Sound, or a vocalist absorbs every 45 in all the diners across America, there’s some enchanted secret lacking, and when you hear a song such as this you’re on a downer it’s not being heard as it could be.
That’s the problem with Deschanel and M Ward's retro doo wop - it instantly evokes a sort of nostalgic, whimsical rock ‘n’ roll response which in itself is a lovely thing, but it never feels truly authentic. Volume 3 suffers because of it, in places falling a bit flat, in others just plain being naff.
However, I'll admit it’s highly unfair to dismiss this record just because it wasn’t released in 1962, produced by a prostitute-slaying God of sound, and discovered by a 12-year-old version of me in some hypothetical second hand record shop, because it is pretty good.
So much of country and rock ‘n’ roll comes down to a feel, and that’s not hugely realised on Volume 3, but everything else works. Vocally, Zooey is an unbelievable talent – her tone is outstanding, and on tracks such as ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me’ is pretty darn authentic. You can imagine her singing it over empty shot glasses at the end of the night as two young runaways dance in the light of a Marlborough sign. It’s nicely tragic.
‘Never Wanted Your Love’ is lush and chocolaty, with a wide-eyed quiver of strings that for one moment steals the whole album. It’s a childlike song, not in composition but in ambiance, taking you down big American streets with your head poking out the window in awe at an adult world around you, Deschanel’s slightest touch being all the comfort you need. M Ward also only needs the merest of influence to make an impact as he does so reservedly on ‘Baby’ where he contributes some backup vocals.
It’s not easy to understand where exactly She meets Him on each song as after four albums their coherency together is effortless, the overall effect being one of sweet and clear consistency. Sure it’s trying to mimic something it can never truly be but it’s lovely nonetheless and credit where due will probably be rewarded with more than a few listens.
6Alex Lee Thomson's Score