When you cover Johnny Mathis, Dusty Springfield, Dame Vera Lynn and weird-ass French pop singers like Charles Aznavour (and many more) on an album and call it Classics that’s making a statement.
Alt-whatever duo She & Him keep it sweet and distant on their fifth album and take a soft focus approach to a well considered and eccentric selection of songs. The twosome of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward (the former on vocals, keys, ukulele and the latter on guitar, vocals, and production) have honed in on a hazy Burt Bacharach infused horizon that’s piloted by Deschanel’s honeyed voice and the duo’s placid reverb-laden performance.
Classics has a calming stop-time effect. Ward’s syrupy production and muted use of horns and twangy, proto-rock guitar are a signpost to nostalgia but they don’t require sentiment. Classics is more about an ambiance of sound and style for its own sake rather than rehashing familiar standards. It’s a fresh creative angle as the record is a potential curiosity.
It’s a lazy album that pays no lip service to drama but has unintentional moments of spookiness where the sound of the past strays on into the present (I’ll Never Be Free, We’ll Meet Again).
Deschanel and Ward are playing on the languorous side of the arrangements and the swooning sounds on Classics are what would have been heard on an AM radio console in some late ‘50s Chevrolet or Ford, preferably powder blue. The heartsick abandon is played out for all its worth on the tremolo laden Unchained Melody.
The low energy drags on songs such as Would You Like to Take a Walk and It’s Not For Me to Say that come across as trite, highlighting the sappiness of the songwriting. That’s not bad, considering the pool of material they’ve chosen from.
The group has a talent for re-framing the sound of a forgotten (or overlooked) style of popular music and resurrecting it on their own terms. Classics has a distant quality that is still warm and candid. After all, who would think to cover a song like She?
– Dean Gordon-Smith is The Morning Star’s music reviewer. His column, Streets Sounds, appears every Friday.