The fourth album by She & Him is called Volume 3, a title which perhaps is curious for its use of the digit instead of spelling out the number as they did in two previous albums, not including the obligatory Christmas album, which I bought but did not review, inasmuch as it didn’t really fit into whatever grand scheme Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward were planning, except of course for (what else could it be?) World Domination.
Based on the evidence of Volume 3, I’m ready to hand over the premises. The eleven ZD originals here show serious growth in her songwriting chops, plus a certain amount of unexpected faithfulness to one of my own guiding principles: love is composed of the magical and the mundane, not necessarily in equal quantities. As an object lesson, see track eight, “Together,” arguably ZD’s drippiest bit of romantic tomfoolery since the tearful “Sentimental Heart” on Volume One, which somehow remains grounded: she (mostly) keeps the quaver out of her voice, and not even the shimmering strings that come in during the instrumental break (nice touch, Mister Ward, sir) can drag it over to the weepy end of the scale.
As always, S&H have selected some unexpected covers: Blondie’s “Sunday Girl,” a track from Parallel Lines which was never released Stateside as a single; “Baby,” the B-side of Ellie Greenwich’s demo-turned-single “You Don’t Know”; and the early-Fifties torch song “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” mostly remembered today as a mid-Sixties soul single by Mel Carter. Deschanel’s reading of “Hold Me” is heavy on the torch.
And as always, Ward’s production is simultaneously impeccable and unobtrusive, and his instrumental work is always appropriate. (He also sings a bit, mostly on “Baby.”) Nicely, he cuts off the strings-and-choir reprise of “I Could Have Been Your Girl” at the close, right before you begin to wonder why it’s there in the first place.
I admit to speculating a bit as to whether any of these songs were intended to recall ZD’s recent split from Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard. Maybe a little: “I’m stronger than the picture that you took before you left” (from “Turn to White”) sounds ever so slightly accusative. But that’s about it: if there’s sadness here, and there is, it’s a generic, and possibly more universal, sadness. And that, too, is a component of love, though determining whether it’s part of the magic or part of the mundane is way above my pay grade.