With her old-timey voice and penchant for vintage garb, it’s kind of surprising that Zooey Deschanel hasn’t released an album solely of (non-Christmas) classic covers before now. However, the latest album from She & Him, simply titled Classics, now fills that void.
Teaming once again with M. Ward, Deschanel adds her smoky quirk to a string of familiar favourites. (Even if you don’t recognize them by name, you’ll likely know at least some of the songs on this album.) Whether or not that’s a good thing is almost entirely dependent on how much you like Deschanel’s voice and how much you buy her as a “real” musician.
Personally, I’ve been a fan of Deschanel’s voice since I heard her memorable rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the movie Elf. So when I heard that she was teaming with M. Ward (who I was already a fan of as a solo artist) to form She & Him, I was pretty excited. And while I wouldn’t say that I’ve been disappointed by their output, none of their albums have really captivated me in the way I might have hoped. I mean, it’s not really a case of false advertising, because if you’re looking for gentle, retro pop nuggets, that’s what you’ll find on any of their five LPs. The music has just never felt that inspired to me and, perhaps especially in the case of Classics, that trend continues.
The songs themselves are lovely; they are (as the title of the album suggests) classics for a reason. But from the lounge-y swing of opener “Stars Fell on Alabama” onwards, the album feels like something Deschanel could record in her sleep. That said, the softly swooning “Oh No, Not My Baby” does nicely showcase both the bottom and upper parts of her vocal range that we don’t often hear. And She & Him’s torch-y, echoing take on “Unchained Melody” here is mesmerizing. But on the whole, the album is full of expected – though well-executed – covers.
One strength of Classics is that it gives Ward more of a voice than we’ve heard in the past. It’s still Deschanel’s show, no doubt, but it’s nice to see the “Him” of She & Him step into the spotlight a little bit more. The most obvious example would be the track “She”, which (ironically) finds Ward taking on lead vocals with his gorgeous raspy tone. “Time After Time”, a true duet between Deschanel and Ward, also serves a somewhat lively highpoint for the album.
It’s hard to find a lot to say about this very pleasant but rather uninspired collection. I found A Very She & Him Christmas to be a more successful cover album, as the holiday theme tied in perfectly with Deschanel’s wholesome-sounding, straightforward vocals. The low-key Classics, meanwhile, just ends up sounding a bit sleepy and dated.