Review Summary: She & Him's debut release is more like a collection of songs rather than a cohesive, fresh album, and as such, is a letdown for a singer that showed a lot of promise.
The only way to describe Zooey Deschanel is a sweetheart. After all, Zooey's performance in the hit holiday comedy Elf made her seem so innocent and fragile. But now, actress, Zooey Deschanel is entering a completely different realm. This time she isn’t singing in the showers while Will Ferrell clumsily drops in; instead Deschanel is open for vocal criticism. But she is not alone on her debut album, Volume One. Deschanel is under the guidance of indie-rock singer-songwriter M. Ward, who acts as a support beam instrumentally, as well as producing Volume One. Their band, She & Him is refreshing, yet overwrought.
She & Him begins with the heart-sobbing, piano-led song, "Sentimental Heart." Deschanel's vocals show promise with a hypnotizing opening chorus, 'cried all night 'til there was nothing more/ what you stand by is a heap on the floor…,' but it is only the beginning. "Sweet Darlin'" features beautiful vocal harmonies with a hand-clapping country-western feel that adds charm to her voice, while M. Ward carefully adds appropriate instruments to each song. In fact, M. Ward pulls his slack creating an ever so pleasant backdrop for the majority of the album, like in the piano-laden "I Thought I Saw Your Face Today."
But with M. Ward's musical backdrop, comes the pacing of each song, the downfall of M. Ward. The first three tracks are primarily the bulk of the quicker-tempo songs, while a plethora of slow tracks bridge the entire album. Above all, where She & Him takes off are with their faster paced songs like, "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here"" and "This Is Not A Test." Conversely, from "You Really Gotta Hold On Me" until "I Should Have Known Better" forms a block of songs that are excruciatingly slow songs and drag more than they should. "Black Hole" brings little relief with a guitar-friendly foot tapper, but barely salvages the pace of Volume One.
But the main problem doesn’t lie in Volume One's pacing; it's simply the fact her lyrics and song topics are ridiculously cliché. "You Really Gotta Hold On Me" focuses on being there for a person when they need it, and guess what, "Got Me" is about how the girl is supported by her lovely partner. That is unfortunately only the beginning of the played out song topics. Deschanel’s lyrics sound not only forced, but completely contrived and it's a shame for an album that could have so much potential.
The songs from Volume One sound like they have been heard on a 40s radio station or in a country-western romance film. It is this generic sound that leaves a bit of skepticism of how to truly judge this album. It is also questionable how much M. Ward swayed Zooey Deschanel's performance on this album with his mediocre production. Regardless, Volume One is a record that would be more palatable on shuffle than as it stands. She & Him's debut release is more like a collection of songs rather than a cohesive, fresh album, and as such, is a letdown for a singer that showed a lot of promise.