Album Reviews

Sally Shapiro – My Guilty Pleasure

(Permanent Vacation) UK release date: 24 August 2009

Sally Shapiro - My Guilty Pleasure Were she even remotely famous, Sally Shapiro‘s shyness would be legendary. The Swedish chanteuse reportedly refuses to record her vocals unless alone in the room, and she’s yet to perform live. All of which only adds to the allure of her (or, rather, ‘their’: ‘Sally Shapiro’ is also the name of the recording duo comprising Shapiro and writer/producer Johan Agebjørn) music, which is hopelessly romantic and delightfully enfeebled: in short, everything Kasabian are not.

My Guilty Pleasure is a slightly more muscular record than 2007’s Disco Romance, which was a successful attempt to replicate the cheap-sounding synthesizers, detached vocals and monotonous grooves of 1980s Italo-disco. My Guilty Pleasure remains indebted to Italo, but it sounds a teensy bit more professional and less self-consciously retro: the basslines throb with the depth one might expect from a late noughties release, while Dying In Africa even indulges in a little house-style string flourish at its climax.

The album’s eleven tracks push the same pleasure buzzers as the music of Shapiro’s fellow Scandinavian Annie: this is sophisticated dance-pop that’s evocative of nocturnal cityscapes and pretty people pulling sad faces. Following a mood-setting instrumental, Looking At The Stars acts as Shapiro’s musical calling card: over an insistent electronic pulse, Shapiro sings in a heavily-accented voice. The nine tracks which follow offer only minor variations on this formula.

But My Guilty Pleasure’s sameyness isn’t a bad thing: Shapiro’s musical territory is one in which you’d happily reside for a long, long time. That’s because her songs occupy that sweet spot where melancholia meets euphoria: the words may speak of sadness, but the music shows a bloody-minded willingness to go out and have a good time.

Even her gran would struggle to argue that Shapiro is a technically gifted singer but, of course, this doesn’t matter. Like Madonna, Bernard Sumner or Neil Tennant before her, Shapiro can’t hide behind vocal histrionics to mask an absence of tunes. Consequently, many of her songs have a delightfully simple, sing-song quality. This reaches its zenith on Jackie Jackie, which resembles the kind of song encountered in a Mediterranean disco while on a teenage holiday and purchased several months later in an effort to recreate happier, simpler times.

As for the lyrics, only the most stone-hearted music fan wouldn’t want to offer Shapiro a hug after listening to lines like “How come I don’t fall in love with normal people? / And how come normal people don’t fall in love with me? / I don’t think I’m that strange. / Do you think I’m strange?” Not at all, Sally! You were too good for him anyway!

If there’s a problem with My Guilty Pleasure, it’s that there isn’t really a stop-the-press-this-is-amazing standout track for the obsessive pop fan to cherish for eternity. There’s nothing here to rival, say, Blind by Hercules And Love Affair or With Every Heartbeat by Robyn.

That is, admittedly, setting the bar stratospherically high and, besides, My Guilty Pleasure provides plenty of evidence to suggest that Sally Shapiro is getting closer to pop nirvana. So that transcendental moment may well arrive with her next release. In the meantime, those needing something to occupy themselves with during Annie’s prolonged absence from the fold will find plenty to keep them happy (and, at the same time, a little bit sad) on My Guilty Pleasure.

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Sally Shapiro – My Guilty Pleasure