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Friday, May 17, 2024

Record Routine: She & Him fizzle in effort to capture classic sound

Since the 2013 release of Volume 3, She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have switched to Columbia Records to release their covers album, Classics, December 2. Joined by an impressive 20-piece orchestra that Ward arranged, Deschanel takes the lead on most of the tracks. The song choices are, in fact, classics, and though the duo do a beautiful job at recreating each one with their own little quirks, the songs have all been covered hundreds of times, leaving little room for originality and a lot of room for scrutiny. 

The opening track “Stars Fell On Alabama” is a heartfelt rendition of the Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald classic. Deschanel’s voice is pitch perfect and pleasant, but lacks the beautiful, fluid emotion of Fitzgerald’s timeless vocal rendition, and Ward takes the background instead of the co-spotlight presence, which Armstrong demanded on his features. Deschanel and Ward’s version is rustic, lighter on vocals and heaver on instrumentals with no scatting, which emphasizes the lyrics wonderfully. It’s a lovely little tune, which is what I expected for this album and what I saw throughout each track. Basically, “pretty” and “safe” are two adjectives that you could assign to every song on Classics

Deschanel next tackles the 1964 Carole King/Maxine Brown classic “Oh No Not My Baby,” which has been performed by female powerhouses such as Cher, Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin. Going into a covers album, you try not to let other artists overshadow the work you’re hearing. With tracks previously performed by blues and jazz greats, there’s no way to ignore the fact that if she were not the quirky, ditzy, “Siri, what’s the weather like?” Zooey Deschanel we all know and love, most of these tracks would be at best decent, yet at worst forgettable. 

M. Ward takes the lead on the 1970s hit “She,” which has also been covered over and over again. Though the instrumentals are amazing and Ward gives a valiant effort on the vocals, I found myself constantly waiting for him to let out a massive Costello whine or at least change his volume slightly during one single round of the chorus. 

Many songs on Classics are excellent renditions oozing with uniqueness from the talented pop duo. Deschanel sounds wonderful on her take of Sinatra’s “It’s Always You” and the Righteous Brothers’ epic “Unchained Melody,” featuring The Chapin Sisters. The album is nothing but pleasant to listen to, with unique vocals and fantastic instrumentals, but I never once found myself getting the same goosebumps or butterflies that I would get hearing the original version of these timeless classics. Though it’s not necessarily fair to compare every second of Classics to the originals, it’s almost impossible not to. Classics is a lovely walk in the park; you know the route, it’s calming and content, but nothing exciting is going to happen while you’re there. 

Rating: C+

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