Sally Shapiro My Guilty Pleasure

[Paper Bag; 2009]

Styles: italo, nu-disco
Others: Sorcerer, Glass Candy, Lindstrom

Sally Shapiro’s October 2007 debut Disco Romance stood out among a run of exceptional nu-disco releases. Coming months after Studio’s essential Yearbook 1 and on the heels of the first edition of Lo Recordings' seminal compilation series Milky Disco, it preceded cosmically inspired wax from Lindstrom, Aeroplane, Hatchback, Sorcerer, and a slew of others. But of these, Romance carved its own niche. Sweet, intricate vocal lines endeared the pseudonymed Sally Shapiro’s straight-faced delivery, and producer Johan Agebjorn characterized the work with deep, crisp mid-tempo beats.

Mentioning Romance is crucial context, because the first half of My Guilty Pleasure is largely derivative of it. While a touch more ambient and lush than previous cuts, opener “Swimming Through the Blue Lagoon” and the subsequent “Looking At the Stars” do a fine job of transitioning from where things left off. But by the time “Love In July” arrives, the spell is broken, and by “My Fantasy” the love potion is a tad watered down. It’s clear the duo realizes a shift needs to be made, but struggles to find the line of best fit.

But My Guilty Pleasure is a bit of a catch-22. It aspires to capture the pace of the dance floor, but there isn’t a single song begging to be played in a club. Besides, Sally is more disco chanteuse than disco diva. Her dolcent delivery was a highlight on Romance, well-tailored to both its wintry sound and love-longing theme. She cooed through tracks entitled “I’ll Be By Your Side,” “He Keeps Me Alive,” “Hold Me So Tight,” and “Time To Let Go.” The names alone concede Shapiro’s constant limerence: she always played something of a fool, constantly enamored despite unrequited or faded passion.

“Save Your Love” marks a thematic shift, but it’s as if Sally doesn’t have the emotional vocabulary to change. What sonically is a spot-on bubblegum Italo update is made bathetic by a chorus of “Save your love for another/ I’ll take the couch.” More puzzling is the laboring “Dying In Africa,” a cover of Nicolas Makelberge’s song of the same name. Shapiro drags behind swarming synth parts adding the puzzling refrain of “And I won’t get over you/ Even if they’re dying in Africa.” Still, the complaint here is not so much the lyrical content as her underselling of it.

I don’t think anyone was looking for a replica of Disco Romance’s sound; we just wanted its consistency and its soul. My Guilty Pleasure branches out in a number of directions — including the Agbejorn-penned “Let It Show” and “Moonlight Dance,” which introduce tuff basslines and suggest a grit closer to Chromatics or Metro Area. But by playing the field, Sally Shapiro loses a bit of what enchanted us in the first place. There are a number of songs with enough stuff to listen to many times, but there isn’t anything grand enough to linger in the mind like an inamorata.

1. Swimming Through the Blue Lagoon
2. Looking at the Stars
3. Love in July
4. My Fantasy
5. Let It Show
6. Moonlight Dance
7. Save Your Love
8. He Keeps Me Alive
9. Dying in Africa
10. Jackie Jackie
11. Miracle

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