Sally Shapiro isn't who you think she is. I don't mean she's lost to us now. No, Sally Shapiro is a false front, a pseudonym for producer Johan Agebjörn and a shy Gothenburg-based chanteuse who wishes to remain anonymous. Emerging on Wolfram Eckert's small Diskokaine label in 2006, the duo's debut album, Disco Romance, was keenly timed, coinciding with the renewed fascination with Italo disco and the overt romanticism and melancholic gloss of '80s electro-pop like the Pet Shop Boys.
But that was 2006. With the Italo ship havin' not sailed by 2009 so much as picked up anchor and taken a feel for prevailing winds, now comes the duo's follow-up for Munich's great Permanent Vacation. Frankly, My Guilty Pleasure does sometimes hew disconcertingly close to the pop-sweet disco of the debut; "Looking at the Stars" retreads the wistful blue-eyed Rhodes of "I Know" almost note for note, and "Love in July" nags the ear as a Sally Shapiro-preset workout. But Shapiro's sophomore effort is so comfortable with its own coyness and heart-on-sleeve Eurovision pop nuggetry that it seems short-sighted to fault the two for returning to such a wholesome formula. (US consumers take note however: Two of Pleasure's best songs—the wintry ice-cap ballad "He Keeps Me Alive" and the twinkly slow-mo surge of "Jackie Jackie"—can be found on Paper Bag's 2007 edition of the debut.)
The title hints at My Guilty Pleasure's homebound appeal; the album art aptly captures its grinning blisses, its avoiding eyes—a record you play in 3 AM cycles with switch-dead lights and sleep-dead neighbors. It's not for parties, not for warming up BBQ coals or keeping the beat alive at late-summer fiestas. There's always been something about Sally Shapiro that seemed more yours than ours or theirs, a very personal address to be played too loud to an empty apartment in pajamas.
Take the duo's phenomenal cover of Nicolas Makelberge's "Dying in Africa." Over serene horizon-line synths and an almost bashful beat, Shapiro is reserved, warm but uncertain like she's turning her back just as you catch its pace and start to move to the timescale of its small anthem. Elsewhere, "My Fantasy" bubbles til burst, its faint pianos settling the track into rest after so much chugging nu-disco, while "Let It Show" sounds like an airier, more reclined take on the '80s R&B of Michael Jackson.
"Save Your Love" best retraces Disco Romance's slick glamour. But the shoe, for perhaps the first time with the two, is on the other foot; Shapiro's daring and hard-eyed. Agebjörn, in turn, offers what's ostensibly their brawniest strut to date, three blunt simmering minutes of flirty, fuck-off Italo. Whether it's a statement of purpose, a sharp note that'll guide the two away from the teddy-bear allure of their first two records, remains to be seen. Frankly, vixen or midnight solitaire, Sally Shapiro's too adorable to slur for the immediacy of its charms.
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Tracklist: Sally Shapiro - My Guilty Pleasure 01. Swimming Through the Blue Lagoon
02. Looking at the Stars
03. Love in July
04. My Fantasy
05. Let It Show
06. Moonlight Dance
07. Save Your Love
08. He Keeps Me Alive
09. Dying in Africa
10. Jackie Jackie
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