"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.
If the most striking feature of Disco Romance, Sally Shapiro's utterly charming debut album, was its uncannily meticulous evocation of early-'80s Italo disco in all its fragile, intimate glory, the most notable thing about this follow-up set may be how fully and faithfully it replicates its predecessor. Save for an occasionally perceptible updating and subtle toughening of their sound, and a marginally poppier writing approach (thanks largely to the increased involvement of Nixon/Cloetta Paris songsmith Roger Gunnarsson), Johan Agebjörn and his still-secretive chanteuse have hardly altered their working template, so album number two feels mostly like a déjà vu whirlwind of glistening synths and icily insistent beats, laden with sweetly cooed romantic disclosures and hushed spoken asides. It's a rather less uncanny feat the second time around, certainly, and My Guilty Pleasure can't help but feel like something of a letdown after the starry-eyed singularity and surprise of Shapiro's initial appearance, but more of the same is, in this case, far from a horrible thing.
Sally Shapiro's wilting-wallflower persona has always been as central to her appeal as the actual music that carries her (fake) name is, and that's okay. It's okay because this is one of those situations where the story and the music feed into each other and complement each other beautifully. The persona, whether it was ever really real or not, wasn't part of the noise that kept us from hearing the music; it was as central to the music as her actual voice.
Sally Shapiro, the icy disco queen who captured hearts in 2007 with her superb debut Disco Romance, returns with a solid (if a tad familiar) sophomore effort. Backed again by producer Johan Agebjorn, the anonymous Swedish singer, My Guilty Pleasure is another compact slice of shining discopop, at once blasé about its influences and revelatory in its emotional range. The thing is, Sally Shapiro is a little in danger of becoming Agebjorn and Shapiro’s hobby.
Sally Shapiro is what happens when a couple of Swedes decide to pay tribute to their shared love of 80s Italo disco. (Apparently no one told them that Shapiro is a Jewish, not Italian, name.) Their first album, Disco Romance, was pretty much a straightforward execution of that equation, replacing Euro-disco cheese with detached Swedish coldness. The resulting catchy dance pop was cerebral enough to catch the ears of critics.