Second Verse, Same As the First
After She and Him entitled their debut album Volume One, there wasn't much suspense over what they'd name their second. But that fact that Volume Two is called, um, Volume Two is meaningful in its own way. Because, in many ways, the duo have made the same album again; have delivered a second set of selections torn from the same songbook.
That it's the songbook of Zooey Deschanel —actor by day, Mrs. Ben Gibbard by night— was the story last time around. Even those disinterested in the cult of celebrity could feel the frisson as Volume One kicked off with the majestic "Sentimental Heart," a carousing carol of heartbreak which exploded into Phil Spector-aping Wagnerian orchestral bombast on closing. Good lord, that cute girl from All the Real Girls could seriously pen a tune. And carry one, too.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Volume One —Deschanel's first collaboration with mumblin', pre-war-blues-steeped songsmith-dude M. Ward— made a great one. This time around, the second impression seems less impressive. Volume Two, an album that sounds the same as its predecessor, seems somehow samey, as a whole. It's still a sweet, unashamedly romantic/romanticizing work dressing Deschanel's Patsy Cline-ish croon in the audio equivalents of vintage threads —big string swells, sinuous sweeps of pedal steel, clicks and clacks of woodblock percussion, reverb to the hilt— but, this time, everything about it is expected. Even the good things about it. Or, more's the point, especially the good things.
The Second Time Around
Like its predecessor, Volume Two knows full well the importance of making a first impression, album wise. Just as "Sentimental Heart" kicked things off with old-fashioned balladic grandeur, so too does LP2's "Thieves," which is all big string swells, woodblock clacks, etc. Hearing the song hit a peak, dip, hit a higher peak, take it to the bridge, and then finish up cresting amidst banging gongs, thunder-clap timpanis, and vertiginous violins, I'm reminded of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Not melodically, or stylistically, but in the simple audacity of putting your grandest, most bombastic moment first; of kicking off a set with the kind of curtain-call fireworks usually used for closure.
True to such, Volume Two never again nears such heights; be they literal or figurative. Rather than heartachey —"Thieves"' best bit of lyrical tear-shedding being: "two broken hearts don't beat/any less"— the LP tends towards cutesy.
Cuts like "Home," a giddy mid-tempo piano number that canters along with such pleasantries as "you're the nicest, nicest boy I've ever met."
Or "In the Sun," a jaunty, heliophonic number that verily skips along. Its on-the-bright-side lyrics suggest forging on with a forced smile when faced with a disinterested/absent lover (lines like "we all feel ashamed sometimes every day/I'll just keep it to myself" sounding a lot like repression&mdash), which, ironically enough, speaks of the song as a whole: the composition itself plastering on the upbeat with a sensibility that at times seems insincere.
Or, perhaps, it's just a case of self-consciousness. Where debuts are often works blissful in their ignorance, follow-ups tend to seem painfully self-aware; or, moreso, aware of what the world thinks, and the expectations that come with. It makes sense that Volume Two would sound a lot like the first, just with its charms feeling less natural and more considered. After all, it's a second album through-and-through. Just look at its title.
Record Label: Merge
Release Date: March 23, 2010