The new record by M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel, a.k.a. She & Him, isn’t likely to change anybody’s opinions about the duo. Deschanel’s voice is still rough and imprecise, and the songs, buffed to a folk-pop sheen, are anything but. However, skeptics may want to give it a listen: Volume 3 is a step forward for She & Him, and it’s the pair’s best effort to date.
Whereas She & Him’s previous collections (two Volumes and a Christmas album) faded too easily to the background, Volume 3 has plenty of moments when the record bursts to life: the low, fuzzed-out guitar on the buoyant opener “I’ve Got Your Number, Son”; the fluttery strings on “Never Wanted Your Love”; the new-wave chug of “I Could’ve Been Your Girl.” The kitchen-sink arrangement of “Together,” with its propulsive drums, lightly funky guitar, and punchy saxophone, is unlike anything She & Him has ever done. Conversely, “London” stands out because of its starkness; the track features only a piano and Deschanel’s distinctive voice. It’s a lovely song, and both Deschanel’s piano-playing and vocals effectively convey the heartbreak of being away from home.
As “London” shows, Deschanel has stepped up her songwriting skills since Volume 2. These melodies are both catchy and inventive, and her lyrics often transcend She & Him’s usual “I love you, why don’t you love me?” theme. Some exceptions, however, keep Volume 3 from being a great record. Coquettish lines like “What’s a girl to do?” in the plodding “Something’s Haunting You” and the bland girl-group posturing of “Somebody Sweet To Talk To” will give She & Him detractors plenty to gripe about. Likewise, M. Ward’s production remains competent but personality-less, which sits uncomfortably with the outsized personality of his bandmate.
Still, this album boasts fresh arrangements, a handful of strong original songs and some well-chosen covers (including a downright fun version of Blondie’s “Sunday Girl”). With the arrival of Volume 3, there’s finally a She & Him record that grabs—and mostly keeps—the listener’s attention.