Zooey Deschanel and M Ward are on to their third album as She & Him (not counting their Christmas efforts), and there's not much in the way of surprises – this is swinging country-pop with a girl-group backbone, as has always been their way. The problem is that this sickly concoction is often overcooked. I've Got Your Number, Son has a nice line in Loretta Lynn lyrical sass, but it's drenched in horns and backing harmonies – as elsewhere, there's simply so much going on that it chips away at any potential charm. But when they go easy on the twee, and take their feet off the reverb pedal, there's more to admire. London, a simple piano ballad, and Shadow of Love, play out the album with melancholic restraint. It seems a spoonful of medicine helps the sugar go down.
Despite the summery feel of Ward’s arrangements, there’s a significant amount of sunburned emotion throughout Volume 3. You can certainly think that these songs, the ones about loss and heartbreak anyway, are about Deschanel’s divorce from Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard in 2011 — this is the first She and Him record since then. “Shadow of Love” is a dark ballad, where love crashes because “we couldn’t see around the bend.” On “Turn to White”, she’s better for having passed through the struggle of heartbreak: “I’m stronger than the picture that you took before you left,” she sings. This is her album, a collection of images that have nothing to do with how others view her. She’s stronger having realized a new vision of herself.
Even so, there isn’t a real narrative or much specificity to grasp on to. Instead, these songs become affirmations of personal strength and resilience that can commiserate with anyone who’s suffered pain. It helps that most of the album deals with more celebratory topics. Pair that with the expertly harmonic production of Ward and Volume 3 is almost too comfortable to listen to. It doesn’t inspire sadness or regret or much introspection at all. Instead, the overriding feeling is that tomorrow will always be a better day — that’s totally fine.
While Deschanel’s songwriting is classically strong, the performances spot-on, and the arrangements undeniably impressive, She and Him don’t offer much of an update to this classic sound. There are other groups out there, like Lady or Rhye, offering something more fascinating in terms of skewing the ’60s pop, R&B, or doo-wop formulas, but She and Him stick by well-established benchmarks. By mark of sales, that’s apparently what audiences want — as a mass, we’re still embracing the thick productions and broader ideologies of pop songs past. While Deschanel seems interested in offering more, even if that means not being clever, that’s clearly the best way to make a large splash.
(Consequence Of Sound)