The Watson Twins were absolutely instrumental to the dimension and depth that characterized Rabbit Fur Coat, their rightfully acclaimed work with Jenny Lewis. Talking To You, Talking To Me, the Watson Twins’ sophomore album, is the Twins’ solo stab at the same sparkling soulfulness that made Coat sizzle.
Like both Coat and last year’s Fire Songs (the Twins’ full-length debut), Talking expertly succeeds in establishing and sustaining a distinct atmosphere throughout the entirety of the album. Talking finds the Twins adopting the moody tone of a torch singer, eschewing the intricate harmonies that once characterized them for a more singular voice. Their smoky pipes are well suited to torch songs, making this tonal shift a very natural, smooth transition — even though it’s one that falls somewhat flat.
In keeping with this trope, Talking favors spare, shuffling jazz arrangements: the perfect complement to a powerful, emotive voice and heartbreaking lyrics, neither of which make a strong showing on this album. Soul songs should feel effortless, but these tracks sound rehearsed and a bit like the musical equivalent to playing dress-up. Because the Twins’ vocals come across so mannered and even-tempered, what’s supposed to be emotionally engaging instead sounds stilted, polite and restrained.
The tracks that fare better are the ones that employ more dynamic production, namely “Midnight,” propped by a backbone of blues-tinged chord progressions, a spirited organ, and the album’s least-languid vocal performance. Slow burner “Harpeth River” channels Dummy-era Portishead; ironically, it takes icy, aloof instrumental backing to help the Twins convey emotion. “Tell Me Why” and “U-N-Me” feature the album’s most intricate production, using rhythmic guitar and echoing piano to create something akin to an Andrews Sisters’ take on ’60s pop.
Being able to blend seamlessly into the background of your music is both a blessing and a curse. Ultimately, tempered restraint allows the Twins to produce a completely focused album — albeit one that’s too sleepily pretty to convey its intended passion.