When Zooey Deschanel paired up with beloved indie musician M. Ward to create She & Him nearly six years ago, it was easy to get on board. Their sound was sweet with a throwback simplicity, and songs like “Sweet Darlin’” and “Ridin’ in My Car” were deliciously fun. But things have changed with their latest release Classics, and you could speculate that perhaps it’s a matter of Deschanel being grossly overexposed (as opposed to her former solid indie girl status). What it really comes down to, though, is that the novelty just seems to have worn off. What once seemed cute, flirtatious and even a little original, now feels tired and played out. In fact, Classics may leave you scratching your head, wondering why the uber talented Ward is still making music with the quirky “it” girl.
Perhaps what is also somewhat grating about this new record is the fact that it’s entirely cover songs. Before, even if you weren’t that into She & Him and their often-nauseating “adorkableness”, you could at least appreciate the songwriting. But now, it’s as though we’re all supposed to just go along with the charade that Deschanel is doing any justice to songs like “Stars Fell on Alabama” and “This Girl’s in Love with You”, when really, her versions are nothing special at all.
What made She & Him great at first was their whole package—the look, the harmonies, the vintage vibe of the songs—not Deschanel as a vocalist. And though there are a few pleasant tracks on Classics, as a whole it feels like an indulgent excuse to stick Deschanel and her bangs on the cover in mod stripes and shove her down our throats as a great singer worthy of any of these songs. Her voice is pretty enough, but it can easily get irritating quickly.
There is a 20-piece orchestra that accompanies Deschanel and Ward on this record, and additions like warm and soft horns and sweeping strings do up the ante a bit. If you do happen to enjoy Deschanel’s vocals, her finest work on Classics is the dreamy standout “Oh No, Not My Baby”. Most of the songs chosen for this were clearly meant to suit her thin falsetto, and while most do, they all sort of blend together after the first couple of listens, and it’s hard to really discern if she’s adding much to them. “Oh No, Not My Baby” has some life to it, and doesn’t feel oversung.
The best moments on Classics come in the form of Ward’s sheer, sleepy version of “She”, a generally sappy song that works well with his toned down rasp; and the Chapin Sisters accompanying Deschanel on the soft and romantic “Unchained Melody”. Their harmonies are rich and inviting, and elevate Deschanel’s voice to a level that would have nicely served the rest of the record had they put in more appearances.