“Somewhere Else” – Sally Shapiro

3 stars (out of 5)

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The enigmatic, publicity-shy Sally Shapiro continues in the same musical vein as her two previous albums, the somewhat disappointing “My Guilty Pleasure” and her, considered by some to be classic, debut album 2006’s shimmering “Disco Romance”. Shapiro is in love with Italo disco and in particular the fragile, melancholic vocals of the genre but on this album other influences, some good and some not so good, start to come through. “Somewhere Else” starts and ends well; “I Dream With An Angel Tonight” is lush and soothing and “All My Life” sounds like fellow pop swede Annie (a very good thing) and has a spoken verse towards the end that has the same rhythm that Neil Tennant employs on “What Have I Done To Deserve This”. From here on in though, things start to become more of a challenge.

Deep breath; “This City’s Local Italo Disco DJ Has A Crush On Me” unfortunately does not live up to its title.  Did it ever really stand a chance? It’s a burbling, squelchy late 80s sounding piece of kitsch which would be fine if it had a more distinctive melody to fall back on. “What Can I Do” opens with a flute and whimsy like nothing I’ve heard this side of the early 1970s Scandinavian folk pop of Abba. I have a feeling that both of these tracks are an attempt, a heavy-handed one at that, at irony and a pastiche on the genres they seem to be aping and they feel jokey and are hard to take seriously; neither are very good songs. Saint Etienne are a band that can also flirt with sonic themes and periods in pop culture that have a bit of self-conscious wink to them but with much more favourable results and, essentially, a sincerity that makes you invest in them. This mid-tempo slump continues with “If It Doesn’t Rain”, the best of the bunch, recalling (and not just because of the wet weather theme) the superior “They Say It’s Gonna Rain” by 80s, Essex hi-energy queen, Hazell Dean. “Sundown” sounds like a Shakatak ballad which shouldn’t in any way be interpreted as a good thing and another reference here is the eighties ‘jazz-funk’ group, (a popular musical trend at the time, young people) The Rah Band and the completely delightful and eccentric “Clouds Across The Moon” but the magic of that track isn’t captured in the clutch of songs here.

The final third of the album is much more successful at hitting its intended target. “Don’t Be Afraid” gets the sad, bitter-sweet mood down perfectly with its descending chord changes in the verse and it’s undulating, warm synths offsetting the heartbreak; it’s the best song here. “Lives Together” and “Architectured Love” are both sleek, pulsing Giorgio Moroder beauties with Shapiro swirling angelically above the machines and it’s in these closing tracks that “Somewhere Else” begins to match the pure melancholic and melodic sweetness of “Disco Romance”.

Sally Shapiro is a niche artist and I’m surprised and very pleased that this album has actually been given a physical release; many independent artists like her are seeing their work just being released in digital format now, which is depressing. This is a good album and a real grower too, even the weaker mid-section has its moments, but it’s really when she reverts back to the original musical format of her debut album that you begin to appreciate Shapiro and similar artists continuing to express their vision with such dedication, however specialist and limited it may appear. “Somewhere Else” may wear its influences on its sleeve but it also doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve reviewed in the last 18 months and for that reason alone Sally Shapiro and her third album should be commended.