Much has been made of Sally Shapiro’s mysterious identity. The Swedish diva, thus far, has kept a tight lid on her personal identity, indulging in very few interviews and keeping her real name a secret (in case that you didn’t catch that Sally Shapiro was a pseudonym, being very not Swedish and all). Shapiro’s been referred to as a “persona” or, rather, a “concept,” which is a pretty accurate call, though there’s no mythology or anecdote-ridden backstory to tell of her origin. She doesn’t even perform live, which practically ensures that nobody learns much about her secret identity. Listening to her debut album Disco Romance, produced (and pretty much all written) by Johan Agebjörn, biographical details seem very inconsequential. The music itself provides a glorious disco diva allure that no personality could possibly live up to.
Disco Romance is a glossy and glamorous album of ’80s disco sounds, with drum machines pulsating like heartbeats and analog synthesizers billowing and glimmering like reflections off of a mirror ball. While you’re likely to hear comparisons to Annie, and that’s true to some extent, Shapiro recalls a much more old school style of Eurodisco with a similar sound to that of Valerie Dore (the songs hold up pretty well in spite of those horribly dated videos, now viewable on YouTube). It’s nostalgic, certainly, and even somewhat innocent and pure, an odd thing to be saying about a genre most closely associated with cocaine.
The main objective of Disco Romance is to incite all parties to dance, and it should have no problem achieving this feat. However, you may have noticed the second word in the title, and this is most definitely a romantic album. Each song is a love song in some way or another, and Shapiro’s voice is soft and sweet as she daydreams upon each lovestruck or heartbroken moment. If the title of “He Keeps Me Alive” isn’t a romantic enough statement on its own, the buoyant melody behind her airy delivery could cause one’s heart to thump heavily. Standout track “I Know” is pure ecstasy, as Shapiro sings, “I know you’re my love/ even though/ sometimes I believe/ I will wake up from this dream” over a pulsating beat augmented by both blaring synths and a warm rhodes piano. “Jackie Jackie” is far more melancholy, with Shapiro intoning a sing-speak against an atmospheric melody, but this descent into ballad territory is juxtaposed by the giddy “Anorak Christmas,” a track that, no matter how many times I hear it, seems impossible to have been released in 2007.
I know very little more about the girl behind Sally Shapiro than I did before listening to the album, but the person behind the voice hardly seems important when the music itself is such a bright and powerful presence on its own. Agebjörn and Shapiro make beautiful, danceable music that is truly not of this era, and Disco Romance is all the better for it.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.