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She & Him – A Very She & Him Christmas

09 December 2011, 08:18 Written by Sam Lee

I had it all planned out. Down to every last miniscule detail.

I was going to review the new She & Him Christmas album. I was going to say that it is wonderful. I was going to call it “this year’s Christmas must-have”. I was going to say how magical Zooey Deschanel is. And then I was going to ask her to marry me. And we would be married on Christmas Eve. In Lapland. Under the Aurora Borealis. And we would spend the rest of our lives together, dressed in novelty knitted jumpers, baking gingerbread houses together. It would be a simple existence, but a blissfully happy one.

As plans go, I think this one was pretty solid. It was foolproof. Watertight. There was no way it could ever fail. Except, that is, for one tiny thing. I was sort of relying on the album being any good.

Fittingly enough, A Very She & Him Christmas follows a similar pattern to Christmas Day itself. It starts off nicely enough with ‘The Christmas Waltz’, a gentle acoustic guitar waltz, which sees Deschanel’s warm voice taking the lead. Next, the jovial ‘Christmas Day’ lifts the tempo, while even Ebenezer Scrooge himself would struggle to suppress a smile at Deschanel and Ward’s version of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, although whether this is due to the duo’s talents or the strength of the song itself is questionable. Still, the retro-tinged production of the track is undeniably lovely, with Deschanel’s vocals backed up by slapback-laden guitar and a soft Hammond organ.

However, it’s not long before things start to take a turn for the worse (this would be the post-turkey slump, if we’re sticking with the slightly tenuous Christmas Day metaphor). ‘Christmas Wish’ sees M. Ward make his first appearance on vocal duties, but it also marks the turning point in the album. Whereas the first few tracks, with a couple of exceptions, are warm, sophisticated and charming, these qualities seem to disappear quite rapidly in the second part of the record.

In fact, to put it bluntly, the likes of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ and ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ are just plain sloppy, sounding over-zealous but under-rehearsed. ‘Sleigh Ride’, meanwhile, has the air of a pub karaoke version, in which everybody has had a bit too much to drink and never really knew the words anyway, and by the time ‘Blue Christmas’ comes around, it sounds as though Zooey Deschanel has definitely been on the sherry all afternoon.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad new. Towards the end of the album ‘Little Saint Nick’ picks things up with its cheerful ukulele and luscious harmonies, before final track ‘The Christmas Song’ ends the album on a peaceful note. Taking things back to basics with Deschanel’s vocals backed up by a lone guitar, it is the aural equivalent of contentedly falling into a deep slumber in front of the fire.

I guess it would be a little bit harsh to say that A Very She & Him Christmas is no good, but, as is so often the case with Christmas albums, it does seem a little bit pointless. It isn’t without its strong songs – in fact it has several (two highlights being ‘The Christmas Song’ and ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’) but on the whole it feels a tad self-indulgent and, at times, even amateur. Perhaps I’m being a bit too cynical; maybe I’m not ‘getting into the spirit of things’ – but, on the whole, this latest release from Deschanel and Ward sadly fails to deliver as much Christmas cheer as you might expect.

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