Sally Shapiro is not a solo artist. We only see the beautiful blonde, fairy-like girl, who does use the pseudonym Sally Shapiro, but technically Sally Shapiro is a duo, the other half consisting of musician/producer Johan Agebjörn. That might sound a little confusing, but I think they like it that way. There’s always an element of mystery to everything they do. Their music is dreamy, airy, a bit twee and often old school Italo pop, so you might think their songs are all going to be about bubble gum and puppy love. But they’re often much deeper than that. Sally can be sarcastic or brutally honest and often delves into the darkness while the music would seem to gravitate toward the light.
Somewhere Else begins with “Prescript,” a little synthy, bubbly intro. It gives you an idea of what’s to come but perhaps it’s not so simple. You could interpret it as an omen. Especially when you consider the lyrics of the first actual song, “I Dream With An Angel Tonight.” “My truth is only a lie,” Sally sings over light, intoxicating new age style beats and lush synth. As the song progresses, we hear a touch of electro titter tatter, deepening the wall of sound, and Sally sings, “This love was never intended to be and you were never intended for me.” Fairly dark lyrics in spite of the gorgeous, dreamy soundscape. Sally would seem to know more about truths and broken hearts than butterflies and rainbows, though she’s often photographed outside, usually with an umbrella.
If “I Dream With An Angel Tonight” is about a love that wasn’t meant to be, “All My Life” could be about Sally finding happiness again post breakup. “Life on my own seems beautiful now that you’re gone,” she sings. She also ponders, more than once, the bridge, “Is it love?” And about halfway through the song she addresses her mother, “Dear mother, you look so sad, but I am ok, I’m not like you, I can’t make up my mind in a day.” These songs have perfectly catchy choruses, though they’re often subtle, but it’s the things Sally conveys during the verses that I find most fascinating.
During “What Can I Do,” which sounds like a smooth ’70’s French pop track, Sally seems to be conflicted about love as she considers, “Who would want me if you leave me? Oh, what can I do? Won’t you call me if you need me?” The melody is lovely, as are her sweet vocals. There’s an innocence about this song. This could be a teenage girl wondering what she should do about a crush. So maybe there is a bit of puppy love in Sally Shapiro’s music after all?
One of the album’s strongest tracks is “If It Doesn’t Rain.” It begins innocently with the sound of synth against the wind but, once the beat kicks in, the synth gets rather dark, calling to mind ’80’s horror movie scores. “I’d like to make it easy for both of us just by being by myself,” Sally sings. “I don’t know if I am right or wrong, weak or strong.” Nobody does introspection better.
Not all of the songs on Somewhere Else are so deep. “This City’s Local Italo Disco DJ Has A Crush On Me” is upbeat, Italo/Euro/disco pop with fuzzy synth bass that seems to bubble over a snappy house beat. “Na, na, na, na, na,” Sally sings over and over again. It’s all easy breezy, painting pictures of dancing in a small Italian night club all the way ’til dawn. “I think I’ll save my kiss,” Sally sings playfully, almost teasing.
The album’s first single, “Starman,” is a collaboration with Electric Youth. It begins with a flurry of light beats that are soon met by a wash of shiny synth. Then a delicious, throbbing beat enters the picture and we hear little bits — just tiny bits — of guitar every so often. And Sally begins singing, pondering love with a starman. “I want to love you Mister Starman,” goes the oh so infectious chorus. One wonders if the song was inspired by the ’80’s movie Starman, during which a man from outer space comes to earth and finds love.
Another essential track is “Sundown,” which begins with a particularly wonderful, silky bass guitar groove and light synth. It’s very much in the vein of classic Serge Gainsbourg, old school ’60’s French pop. I could easily hear Jane Birkin singing this one. “I hear what you say, and I don’t disagree, I just can’t go on pretending it doesn’t matter to me,” Sally sings. “I was happy, now you’re gone.” We’re left wondering if he’ll come back. And wondering if Sally even wants him to come back. I told you — there’s an element of mystery in everything they do.