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Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

Music Review: Volume 3 by She & Him.

SheAndHimVolume3

The 14 songs on this latest compilation by She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) go by in just 42 minutes and 36 seconds, which means the album would have fit perfectly on one side of a C-90 cassette. This is just one of the retro aspects of this release. Deschanel’s focus appears to be on the past, as if she’s piloting a musical time machine. Unfortunately, the machine may be broken as it seems to move all over the place without much rhyme or reason.

“I’ve Got Your Number, Son” is the awkwardly-titled track one and it starts off like a Beach Boys song melded with Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun.” Nice production but Zooey’s vocal is weak and muddled here, as if she had not yet downed a first cup of coffee. The drumming is overly busy and it comes off as a bit too Glee-fully cute for its own good.

“Never Wanted Your Love” is a bit disorienting as Zooey delivers a Nancy Sinatra vocal over an instrumental arrangement that screams out Wham. Wake me up before you go go. The song could have used more lyrics but the repetition is very ’60s/’70s/’80s. The good news is that Zooey delivers some energy here.

“Baby” is what a ’50s love song would sound like if recorded by Fleetwood Mac. The guitars are dead-on Lindsey Buckingham, and Ms. Nicks might think about covering this Deschanel composition.

“I Could Have Been Your Girl” is a good song. But Zooey seems to be straining (a rarity) in the wrong key. The lyrics, “I’d send you the pillow that I cried on…” suggest a song that might have fit on an album by Lesley Gore or Shelley Fabares. This track could have used additional takes before becoming a finished product.

“Turn to White” is Brazilian-style pop and Zooey finally sounds confident. This is her “I’m Still Standing” song: “You’re a distraction from everything I fear…”. Love has beaten her up and knocked her down but she’s not fading away. This is the best produced song on Volume 3 (presumably M. Ward’s on the bass); it could be a film soundtrack song, played during the closing credits.

“Somebody Sweet to Talk To” is also set to a catchy Fleetwood Mac rhythm, it’s kind of like “Everywhere.” The song is about love without obligations: “I’m just asking you to stay for a couple of hours…”. Zooey sounds like a different person here, which is nice, but the song is over in less than 3 minutes.

“Something’s Haunting You” is Zooey’s “Martha My Dear.” There’s a touch of Peggy Lee in the vocal (although some would argue that Lee was never this upbeat) and it would make for a great music video with Zooey dressed as a ’40s chanteuse.

“Together” is a lightweight ’80s pop track. It’s a throwaway song and the nadir of the collection.

“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” is a cover that lacks the heart, feeling and soul of Mel Carter’s recording. This should have been a home run (like Gloria Estefan’s version), instead it comes off as a failed bunt. Zooey’s cover only lasts for 2:40 but, trust me, it feels much longer.

“Snow Queen” is ’50s style. I get that, but I don’t get it.

“Sunday Girl” is another cover, this time of Blondie’s Los Angeles surf-rock love song. Zooey’s vocal comes off as weak compared to Deborah Harry’s and it raises the question as to whether this ’78 song needed to be recorded again. (Probably not.)

“London” is simply Zooey singing over a piano. If the entire album were like this, it might have been near brilliant.

The title of track 13, “Shadow of Love,” looks like it might have come off an Eagles album and the song sounds like a mixture of Roy Orbison, The Eagles, and Jimmy Buffett. This is Zooey’s “Tequila Sunrise” and features the best lyrics on Volume 3: “We built a shadow of love in our hearts where the future should be… There’s no tomorrow to set us free.”

“Reprise (I Could Have Been Your Girl)” is a short vocal exercise by Zooey without lyrics which is interesting, if a bit illogical coming after “Shadow of Love.”

According to the record company, “(Volume 3) features some of the most dynamic, complex songs Deschanel has ever written.” Well, not really. There are so many varieties of style in this collection that one wonders what She & Him have become. Like Los Lobos, their display of musical diversity robs them of a clear, consistent identity. It may be eclecticism for its own sake.

Volume 3 may sell in bunches for She & Him but, overall, it comes off as a missed opportunity. Sometimes less is less, and this album is much less than it could have been.

Joseph Arellano

Note: I remain a big fan of She & Him, but I’d like to see Zooey and M. Ward push themselves to deliver a classic album; one about which people could say, “That was their Rumours, Rubber Soul or Pet Sounds.” I think they have it in them if they treat music as more than just a hobby.

This review originally appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-she-him-volume-3/

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Second Hand News

On Book Reviewing – Plausibility is the Thing

One of the key items that a book reviewer of a novel needs to consider is plausibility.   Does the basis of the tale told in the book ring true?   Are the characters like people one would encounter in real life, or are they either too perfect, too flawed or strange?   Sad to say but if the story’s premise and/or its characters are not plausible then reading the novel becomes an exercise in futility.   Oh, the story may have some positive features but lacking plausibility, it’s like saying that someone’s done a good job of putting lipstick on a pig.   Great makeup job but it’s still a pig.

What does the reviewer do when in this situation?   Focus on the writing itself while reminding the potential reader that this may be a talented writer but he/she has not met his/her potential this time around.   In other words, offer hope for the future.

Now here’s the funny thing…   If a reviewer questions the plausibility of a novel the author is never going to concur with this finding.   Never, ever, ever.   His or her response will be something like, “I based this on something that actually happened and I know (or knew) people like the characters in this book!”   Fine but that’s the author’s perspective not the reviewer’s view.   What it translates into is a case where a plausible story – supposedly based on real-life – was botched in the writing.

A U.S. Supreme Court justice once said about pornography, “I cannot define it but I know it when I see it.”   The same is and should be true for a reviewer – either he or she “sees” the plausibility in a fictional setting or he/she doesn’t.   Either way, it is critical for the reviewer’s credibility to call it as he sees it.   Play it as it lays.

There’s another famous quote, one attributed to an actor, “Once you’ve learned to fake sincerity, you can fake anything.”   But a writer of a fictional work can’t fake plausibility – its either on the written page (“on all fours,” as law professors say) or it’s absent.   And if a reviewer makes the call that it’s absent the writer should remember that it’s nothing personal – your next book may become one of the reviewer’s favorites.

Joseph Arellano

This article is one in a continuing series.   Pictured: The False Friend: A Novel by Mya Goldberg (author of Bee Season) which will be released by Doubleday on October 5, 2010.   This is one of those books that we look forward to reading and reviewing.

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