“Italo disco” is a label that’s been applied to almost every piece of electronic music to hit music blogs in the past few years. The appeal of calling something “Italo” is that referencing a largely forgotten genre implies that the music is authentic and you don’t really have to specify why. This works because most people have no idea what Italo disco is, nor do they have any particular desire to find out. For anyone who’s confused (and who don’t want to be referred to Giorgio Moroder or a collection of obscure singles from early-’80s Italy), feel free to use Sally Shapiro as your signpost.
My Guilty Pleasure’s unceasing melodrama — carried to our ears by Shapiro’s straightforward, girlish soprano and bolstered by producer Johan Agebjörn’s compositional faithfulness to the genre — is absolutely the nearest thing to Italo disco being made today (with a dash of Eurobeat, for good measure). On the album’s first single and closing track, “Miracle,” Agebjörn even goes so far as to stick thunderclaps into a beat that without them still sounds like something that Laura Branigan might have used.
Of course, that kind of self-aware excess is one of the things that made Italo so enjoyable, and it’s absolutely one of the elements that makes Sally Shapiro’s sophomore effort work. The level of consistency on My Guilty Pleasure isn’t always a plus, though. Shapiro pines all across the album, and even when she’s not singing about something she wants or something she’s lost, she still sounds like she’s pining. Agebjörn and his pseudonym’d collaborator’s dedication to the construction of Sally Shapiro as a lovesick chanteuse ensared by glittery, glacial beats is charming, endearing, effective, but doesn’t really give the pair a lot of room for growth.
Despite this fact, My Guilty Pleasure is certainly an improvement on Shapiro’s debut, Disco Romance. As strong an album as that was, My Guilty Pleasure is more cohesive, its production more varied, its songwriting more effective. A great deal of Disco Romance‘s appeal seemed to stem from the allure of the idea of Sally Shapiro, nevermind the album’s limited sonic palette. The duo has gotten past that admirably, focusing tightening their music’s aesthetic and sound. The question is, How much tighter can they make it?
The most fun Sally Shapiro track released to date is “Jackie Jackie,” which is odd because its sound is more disparate from the feel of the duo than any of their other tracks. On it, Shapiro pines as usual, but her vocal delivery is choppy and staccato, and Agebjörn’s beat veers more toward Eurobeat than Italo. If they want to give Sally Shapiro more life, a different life, then that’s the place they should go on their next album.