Monday, February 28, 2022

Five Star Album: My Guilty Pleasure by Sally Shapiro

This is by far the best album of the last 20 years for me and even after more than a decade of listening to this album I never get tired of it.  That's what I would qualify as a five star album.  

I turned 12 in 1980 and the sound of the 80's with it's odd blend of punk and disco have always been at the core of so much music I've loved over the last 40 years.  I know nothing of Italo Disco which was a music genre out of Italy and Europe in the 80's but apparently that is the style that singer, Sally Shapiro, and producer,  Johan Agebjörn, were tapping into with their debut album Disco Romance in 2006.  

Much like Murmur is considered the quintessential R.E.M. album by many, because it was the first, Disco Romance is so considered for Sally Shapiro.  But for me I always found that the leap R.E.M. made after Murmur lead to much better music that had a tighter structure, more pop orientation, more confidence.  I feel this way about My Guilty Pleasure from Sally Shapiro.  Yes Disco Romance set the template, but My Guilty Pleasure is the much more brought to life vision of what they were trying to do with Disco Romance.  

I'm talking about this because I think it is important and I've always thought it was important to see the progression of work with music groups that grow and develop over time to see how they get better.  The roots of what Sally Shapiro was doing with Disco Romance are important in that they allow us to see the place we ended up with My Guilty Pleasure.  On their next album Sally Shapiro would move on in a slightly different path and I think that is in part because you couldn't have done better than what they did with My Guilty Pleasure.  

So what is it that makes this album so great?  I'm going to focus on two really basic things here.  One is the production work by Agebjörn.  He is able to set a tone that carries from the first note of the first song through the entire album.  We have these driving beats throughout, these driving Euro beats, but they are layered with music that is both sad and whimsical at the same time.  I'm not sure how he pulled this off, but every song has this vibe to it that feels both sad and happy and so depending on your mood you can go either way and it works.  This also fits in with the second thing which is Shapiro's vocal performance.  She too is sad and happy on every song.  When I first heard this album it immediately made me think of Weekend and lead singer Alison Statton.  Statton had this ability to be dreamy and sad and joyful all at the same time and Shapiro has that as well.

In my mind we were now marrying two things I really love.  Early 80's post punk, jazz influenced music from a band like Weekend with electro pop that was finding influencing from trip-hop and 80's Italo disco.  It's a wonderful combination that falls perfectly into place on this 9 track album.  The first track is a short musical number, "Swimming Through the Blue Lagoon" to set us up for the vibe and feel of what's to come and never once disappoints.  

Swimming Through the Blue Lagoon

OK so you may be wondering well you talked a lot about the sound but what about the lyrics.  Surely for a 5 star album it has to have good lyrics right?  In many ways it is much like early R.E.M. or Cocteau Twins for me in that the sound is really what matters most, but on this album the lyrics are good enough to fall perfectly in with this tone that is set by both the vocals and the music.  On the first track with vocals we get "Looking At the Stars" and it has a wonderful lyric which just nails the sound perfectly.  Here is the chorus as best as I can understand it and from looking up online lyrics sites.  

I'm looking at the stars tonight
and only thinking of you.
I'm looking at the stars tonight
and you can see that I am too.
I wish that you could feel my love 
and I wish that I always can.
And I love you so much much more
than I think I ever said

The lyrics aren't abstract but like much electronic music they are spare, but they set the tone, give us a little story to go with the great music and vocals and off we go.  

Looking at the Stars

The rest of the album has very similar lyrics.  They only made a few videos and one of them was for the next song on the album "Love in July."

Love in July

Another thing I want to add about the lyrics that I really like is there is a certain sense of innocence to these songs.  They are youthful and hopeful and sad all at the same time.  But they aren't angry and I think that really helps to make this album work for all moods.  If you are angry you feel the sadness but the songs help to calm you down.  If you are happy you latch onto the youthfulness and hopefulness.  

All that being said the next song "My Fantasy" perfectly incapsulates all of this.  It's my favorite track on the album.  Here is a great line from the song that gets at what I'm talking about.  

I call you up for a rendezvous.
Another night with just me and you. 
I feel so warm when I meet your eyes. 
I'm flying high somewhere in the skies.  
You lay those lyrics with her wispy vocals and almost sad sounding electro beat and you get just a magical song.  

My Fantasy

We continue on from "My Fantasy" with "Let It Show" in this kind of down beat.  

Let It Show

Then we transition out of the dreariness of the last two songs onto a much more up tempo beat.  The good thing about the music on this album his how subdued it is.  Even on this track and the next "Save Your Love" where we have a pretty solid dance beat there is a subtleness to it.  

Moonlight Dance

Sally Shapiro is a duo out of Sweden and this song more than any other makes me think of Scandinavian influences from the 80's.  Especially a band like A-Ha.  

Save Your Love

I have to say the song "Dying in Africa" has a lyric that I've always found really interesting.  

I never knew someone could make me cry like this.
And I, I won't get over you
even if they're dying in Africa.
And I, I can't get over you
even if they're crying in Africa.  

Dying in Africa

Finally we get to their other music video from this album.  I really like this video.  Maybe it's because I find this to be an exceptional album to listen to on headphones and the characters in this video always have on headphones.  


That's it, that's the album.  If you find yourself on a walk some night and your in a funky mood, put on this album with some headphones and just escape into it.  It can go either happy or sad depending on the direction you want to go and time will slip by as though you fell into a time machine.  


  1. First five-star review from Matthew in almost seven years. Very exciting.

  2. Here's a list of the albums that Matthew has given five-star reviews:

    Sally Shapiro, "My Guilty Pleasure"
    B.B. King, "Live at the Regal"
    Nina Simone, "At Town Hall"
    Roxy Music, "Avalon"
    Bob Dylan, "Blood on the Tracks"
    Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run"
    Marvin Gaye, "What's Going On"
    The Cure, "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me"
    The Who, "Quadrophenia"
    Sly and the Family Stone, "There's a Riot Goin' On"

  3. This is huge. I'm excited to work the next 45 minutes or whatever to this album. I didn't remember ever having heard of Sally Shapiro.

  4. Yes, I totally hear your A-ha thing in "Save Your Love"!

    Even after all of these years of watching the Winter Olympics, it still took the Worldle for me to finally figure out which one was Norway, which one was Sweden and which one was Finland.

    And thank you for asking. I got the Worldle in four and the Wordle in three today. If anyone is clamoring for that information on Facebook, please let them know--as I've given up Meta and Twitter for Lent and went ahead and started during a pancake bender at Shrove Tuesday worship last night.

  5. All right! Thank you for that. It was fun to be taken through something new and so thoroughly. My only disappointment with the experience was that I honestly had misread the title of one of the songs and had gotten excited to hear Sally Shapiro's take on "Let It Snow!"