Will the real artist known as Prince please stand up?
With all of the love for and reconstruction of classic disco as of late, it was only a matter of time before vintage R&B got its due. Or rather, it should only be a matter of time before it does, because it doesn’t seem like our young, Sydney-born Sam Sparro is up to the challenge. With Australia making like a modern day Manchester in terms of dance music output (Cut Copy, The Presets, Midnight Juggernauts, and PNAU just this year alone), it’s no surprise to see a similarly mapped path taken on this eponymous debut. What is surprising is the seeming dearth of passion, let alone creativity, throughout it. At its best, it makes for mildly diverting if overly derivative listening. At its far more frequent worst, the Purple Rain turns a very distinctive shade of brown.
Sparro makes his influences (and his overdependence on them) known immediately on intro track “S.A.M.S.P.A.R.R.O.,” marrying Daft Punk-treated vocals to a beat stolen wholesale from “When Doves Cry.” That these are used to recite an uninspired acronym that literally has to spell out how awesome our narrator thinks he is offers little reassurance. That lyrical laziness continues to permeate the rest of the album’s 52 minute length, not only reveling in banality—he actually pens a song called “Recycle It!” that both details exactly what it says and unintentionally calls attention to his reliance on dated sounds—but betraying a total inconsistency in theme.
One minute, he’s offering to “be your medicine” and “make you feel better” over Kraftwerkian percolations (“Sick”). The next, he’s blowing you off, saying he’s got 21,000 things to do today (“21st Century Life”), that you’re too clingy (“Clingwrap,” seriously) and that he needs to be set free. Sam, if you want to treat the entire album as one big one-night stand, fine. But at least make sure the sex is good before you sneak out. The sole point where his Prince pastiche comes off relatively well (not saying much) is on single “Black & Gold,” where the poorly constructed platitudes take a backseat to thinly veiled metaphors that compare companionship to stars in the sky next to each other. Another safe highlight is “Waiting for Time,” an Air-y ballad with lyrics like “Is there a lesson somewhere in this awful tragedy? You didn’t deserve that, nobody does.” If he was shrewd, he would have made this the album’s final song to serve as a cheeky apology for what came before it.
It didn’t have to be this way. Plenty of modern dance artists have managed to take the old and make it sound new again. Prince himself does it every so many years with middling success. But Sam Sparro lacks his mentor’s erotic vulnerability, not to mention the salaciousness and sincerity of contemporaries like Scissor Sisters and Hercules & Love Affair, respectively. Maybe, as “Waiting for Time” suggests, there is still time to make things right. But if this debut is indeed a Sign `O’ the Times, I’m hopping right back into my little red corvette and going home.