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She & Him - Classics


Release date: 08 December 2014
She Him Classics
08 December 2014, 09:30 Written by Emma Smith
It’s been six years since She & Him ambled onto the scene as the side project of saucer-eyed indie heroine Zooey Deschanel and singer-songwriter Matt Ward, and they’ve spent that time carving a niche as nostalgia-loving crafters of country pop. Showing zero signs of distancing themselves from musical sentimentalism for the past, they release their fifth record, Classics, filled with their takes on songs from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Dusty Springfield. And it is about there that, if you wanted to, you could sum it up.

When you see the track listing includes “We’ll Meet Again”, “Stay Awhile” and “Oh No, Not My Baby”, your gut instinct telling you what this record is going to sound like is probably right on the money. This is a very She & Him take on a bunch of mostly great songs and is exactly the record it wants to be and exactly the one you are expecting, for better or worse.

The duo already have their audience and you sense they know and enjoy that and aren’t begging for new listeners. Deschanel’s fans already adore her Manic Pixie Dream Girl status and her clean cut, loveable affectations are all at play on here. Just like her onscreen persona, this is damn sugary stuff and as we're admittedly a two dessert kind of gal who adds extra syrup to our latte, we don't at all mind things getting a little sweet, but even we know it can lead to bellyache.

“Stars Fell On Alabama” is a take on a track made most famous by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. It’s cute, of course. “Oh No, Not My Baby”, a go at a gorgeous soul number from Maxine Brown which doesn’t hold the same charm. But it’s cute, of course. “It’s Not For Me To Say” was originally recorded by the honeyed voice of Johnny Mathis so it’s difficult for Deschanel and Ward to reach the standard. But it’s cute. Of course. The question is how far “cute” takes you.

The problem is that there is no real problem and no real triumph; no real peaks or troughs or spikes of excitement. Classics meanders along in a pleasing way if you already like their brand of doe-eyed old fashioned romancing; and if you’re partial to that there's no reason this wouldn't win you over too. But for us, ever since we got a taste of the Amy Winehouses and the Lana Del Reys of the world, we knew that reminiscing didn’t have to equal watered down wistfulness, it could be dark and intriguing and beautiful; There’s a stage where the music needs to have a little fire in its belly, at least a bit of spark, and that’s sadly missing here.

Their cover of “Unchained Melody” is the one that sticks in the mind when the record is over, its haunting layered melodies offering an endearing vulnerability to the song. Meanwhile "She" is a sweet take on the track made most successful by Elvis Costello, where the M of 'M Ward' takes vocal duties but even then it's a much less inviting version of the heart on sleeve, overblown- borderline gaudy- romance afforded to it by Costello.

Much like a festive costume for your dog or a crochet apple jacket (which we promise actually exist as a thing, and furthermore, almost guarantee Deschanel has a drawer dedicated to ‘em), it’s sort of endearing, but also mostly pointless. If Classics hadn’t been made, there probably wouldn’t have been frenzied fans knocking down She & Him’s door clamouring for another record. The world, and music, would have just got on with it. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a perfectly agreeable and sometimes lovely affair, but a largely forgettable one all the same.

The greater good that this album serves is to remind you to listen to the original songs and maybe discover something you didn’t know. “Stay Awhile” is a somewhat muted affair when compared with the glorious, impassioned Dusty Springfield original while “This Girl’s In Love With You” is formerly a powerhouse great from Aretha Franklin which can’t, in fairness, be matched by anybody else and definitely isn’t by the wholly sanitised version they bring to the table.

Throughout the album, there’s a sense they’re just playing around. This is a hobby, not a day job, and somewhere the passion is lost - there’s a gap where the all-consuming compulsion of a musician to make a record usually can be found. In the end it, becomes slightly irksome and almost cloying in its total dedication to being absolutely middle ground inoffensive in as coy a fashion as possible.

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