Pleasure, Little Treasure
When Sally Shapiro stole our hearts a few years ago with Disco Romance, it felt like a glorious accident. After all, the pseudonymous siren and producer Johan Ajebjorn only intended their debut single “I’ll Be By Your Side” to be a one-off. Even after it spawned an album of shimmering Italo-disco Shapiro took the shy route, refusing to do in-person interviews or perform live (save for a handful of DJ dates) and leaving many wondering if her work would continue. And even if it did, would lightning strike twice? Fortunately, My Guilty Pleasure proves Sally’s the real deal.
Part of Pleasure‘s success rests in the considerably increased confidence of its star. With Romance, our heroine was a sweet cipher through which Ajebjorn could channel immaculate arrangements and wistful lyrics. Shapiro retains her icy-hot delivery on the songs here but infuses them with a tinge of (gasp!) personality. That’s right, a singer who at one time had listeners doubting her very existence reveals a very real heart beating and breaking through the snowy synths.
On aptly-named first single “Miracle,” Shapiro’s fuller delivery fleshes out a cinematic tale of a woman watching her lost love leave forever (“We had something magical”), too resigned to the separation to chase after it (“There’s no point missing you”). It’s deliciously dramatic stuff, even more so now that she sounds like she means what she’s singing.
The rest of the album’s charms lie in Shapiro and Ajebjorn’s newfound assurance to play with their sound, continuing to perfect a signature aesthetic while placing their own distinct stamp on songs. “Miracle” runs the blustery template of Romance highlight “Time to Let Go” through the 4AD wash—it comes out the other side like a long lost B-side from Cocteau Twins’ Victorialand. “Let it Show” re-imagines the beat from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as if covered by Chromatics; “Moonlight Dance” glimmers in its titular nocturnal glow with a gliding midtempo strut and seductive slap bass worthy of Maurice Fulton.
Everything climaxes perfectly with the one-two punch of “Save Your Love” and “Dying in Africa.” The former is a dazzling dancefloor dervish that annexes Saint Etienne’s Tiger Bay and proves Shapiro’s prowess as a restless sexpot. The latter is a haunting Nicolas Makelberge cover christened with trickling keys and house-styled strings. This pairing bridges the gap between Sally new and old, highlighting a surprising versatility from an artist some have dismissed as slight.
There’s plenty more credit to go around for My Guilty Pleasure‘s uniform greatness. Nu-disco producer Tensnake had a hand here, as did frequent Shapiro collaborator Roger Gunnarsson and his own Italo-cized muse Cloetta Paris. But there’s never any mistaking whose show this is. Sally Shapiro hasn’t reinvented a forgotten genre here so much as reinvigorated and perfected it, and the only guilt that these pleasures should elicit are for those who don’t take the time to enjoy them.