It’s hard to believe that in all the acclaim Disco Romance has reaped upon Sally Shapiro and songwriter/producer Johan Agebjorn since its European release in late 2006, Shapiro is still so press and performance shy that she has not played one live date. Only recently, for the North American release, did she shoot her first music video. I can understand shyness, but surely Shapiro is aware of the raves she and Agebjorn rightly earned with Disco Romance and its preceding singles. Shapiro’s persona as an enigmatic Italo disco chanteuse, with her thin, airy vocals, leaves a warm familiarity and a sense of genuineness. Be it naivety or a deliberate lack of ambition, Shapiro and Agebjorn have rightly allowed their music to continue to exist as the product of an honest collaboration of a shared love of music.
Based on the three new tracks included on Disco Romance, Shapiro still sings with the same fragility and reserve that leaves her so unintentionally charming. Lines like “How come I don’t fall in love with normal people,” and “I don’t think I’m that strange/ Do you think I’m strange?” from “Jackie Jackie (Spend This Winter with Me”) makes Shapiro’s story all the more real. Musically, Agebjorn lays pristine framework with booming kick drums and chilly layered synths, setting Shapiro up for melodic high after melodic high. “I Know” and “He Keeps Me Alive” pulse with spacey synths, vocoder and drum machines. As the songwriter and producer, as well as a self-proclaimed Italo disco aficionado, Agebjorn certainly knows how to write an infectiously subtle hook. Shapiro, for her part, follows nicely, filling the melodic turns with her enchanting coos.
Both of them play the part of romantic disco revivalist so well that it leaves no doubt that they’re wide-eyed music enthusiasts first and performers second. Shapiro sings tales of reverie in love and longing, never quite sure of her place in love and always somewhat lost in her longing. Her comfort in confusion with Agebjorn’s musical setting of amorous disco beats and icy electronics establishes a perfect stage for discovering the pleasures and fear of being helplessly uncertain. Sharing this with Shapiro and seeing her succeed on her own terms makes Disco Romance a win.