I was listening to an album by She & Him, you know that too-cutesy/too-clever duo comprised of the most annoying actress in the world right now, Zooey Deschanel and the once very good M. Ward (I’m convinced she’s killed his career/his credibility).
Time was I could sit down with an M. Ward album and get swept up in the whole thing. Somewhere in the recent/ish memory banks I still hold onto an absolutely wonderful live set from Ward at Wellington’s San Francisco Bath House; up there as one of the very best small gigs I’ve ever been part of. In fact he returned to mesmerise at another venue a few years after that – too.
But now he releases a record and I just don’t care.
I blame Zooey.
Her gooey vocals were fine for a time – which is to say, as an actress she can certainly sing (more so in fact than she can act). But it was with near enough to rage that I sat down to attempt the musical gingham that is Volume 3 by She & Him. That about says it all really, that title: same shtick, different day.
I’ve not been able to watch New Girl, my funny bone won’t let me. It can’t sit there un-tickled for the duration of something that bills itself as comedy. This is no great loss in my life. I’ve tried watching the show. It’s just awful. And though you could blame the writers, any of the other actors/characters, producers, the show’s marketing team or director, the blame falls – for me – squarely with Ms Deschanel; a can’t-act actor mugging it up with this so-called Manic Pixie Dream Girl patter/pattern. (That’s a ghastly term by the way, but it does exist, hence me linking to it).
Anyway, Zooey Deschanel can ruin acting all she likes and ruin the idea of comedy – and of course, yes, she’s laughing all the way to the bank. But I don’t like that she’s ruining M. Ward. And that she’s ruining music. She might as well start her own Ukulele Orchestra next. You can just imagine it, right? Good lord no! Please! (I’m sorry I even suggested that).
All of this gets me to the topic of actors who transition to music…
I didn’t mind seeing Deschanel play and sing (and awkwardly chat) on an episode of Elvis Costello’s Spectacle talk show. Her voice certainly worked in that context. But this pixie stuff, and the banal songs – so often we hear these lazy/soft criticisms about the actor-moonlighting-as-singer: pretty good job considering it’s not their number one gig.
Once you release something into this world you are judged by it. If you step up as an actor or singer or dancer – and it’s not your number one skill in this life – then you better be good. Because you’re stepping up against people who have chosen to follow that path because it is their number one skill.
Another recent/ish album that really meant nothing – no matter how good-natured the attempt might have been – was Hugh Laurie’s second stab at the blues. Better than his thoroughly execrable first attempt, sure. But still rubbish, still not needed, still nothing close to the source, nothing you needed to hear. The only thing I’d say in defence of Laurie’s musical work is that he – possibly – is sending people to the source. He’s taking fans of his work (his acting work) and giving them reason to hear Dr. John and Professor Longhair and Leadbelly and a lot of other great music that they might not have heard otherwise.
Blues Music for House Fans should have been the name of his record. (Though I guess that could be confused as some comedown compilation for the last of the leftover ravers not content with watching Tiki Tour when they get in at 6am-ish).
There are plenty of tourists that visit music from acting and make the speedy/correct decision to keep it as just a hobby: Johnny Depp for example.
Then there’s Jared Leto – largely awful at both, but stinking up albums and concert stages more so than movie and TV screens these days.
To go back to She & Him, my frustration with them, and that third album particularly – and in fact with the continuation of this sham – is that Deschanel’s persona seems so insincere, it’s music she brushes on lightly, so easy to wipe off. She can walk away from it as folly at any time. And though, clearly, it suited M. Ward to hitch his wagon to this alleged good time, it’s now been going on for a long time. Too long. The boat needs to be called back in.
In my review of Hugh Laurie’s album I talked about how, ultimately, actors can often seem so insincere, so emotionally fraudulent and hammy when attempting to convince in the musical role. An irony given the day-job is to sell a lie and sell it well. The same is true with She & Him. I don’t believe this bubbly hokum for a second.
So, I wonder what you think about all this. Who is your pick for actor making the transition to music in a believable, sustainable way? And what are your thoughts on Zooey Deschanel as musician. What are your thoughts around She & Him? Have you heard the new album? Are you a fan of the duo? And do you miss the old M. Ward?
And what actors have taken a good stab at killing music as far as you’re concerned?