Disco music was a distinct product of its time – easily mass-produced and danceable, a hazy reflection of the frantic club scene of the late ’70s. The movement de-emphasized singer-songwriters and championed the dynamic of producer-performer, a throwback to the early years of pop music when producers controlled nearly every aspect of composing and recording while artists were left to deliver precise performances (the Bee Gees being a notable exception). The music was ornate and kitschy, self-consciously disposable with strong hooks and flimsy lyrical content.
Disco’s high period was relatively brief, but its impact carries on to present day. Producer John Agebjorn and his reluctant disco queen, Sally Shapiro, still make songs that reflect the ideals of the disco era; they’re romantic and groove-based, with steady dance beats and memorable choruses.
But although the music is solidly disco in its construction, the instrumental textures are a far cry from the horns and overblown string arrangements of the ’70s. Electronic beats and synths pervade the eight songs on the Shapiro/Agebjorn concoction Disco Romance’s. Agebjorn’s arrangements are lush and roomy, using minimal instrumentation to heighten the tension before and during the soaring choruses.
Shapiro’s performance is sweet and unassuming. She doesn’t project her voice like a typical pop diva but rather lets the words roll off in a restrained and breathy croon. Her obvious contemporary is Annie, the singer who covered similar Euro-pop territory on 2005’s Anniemal.
But while there are many parallels between the two, Annie’s more innovative and domineering musical persona lead to a more mature and debut record.
That said, Shapiro’s lead singles “I know” and “I’ll be by your side” are instantly catchy and rival the best of Anniemal. Both songs are led by Agebjorn’s oscillating mix of synths and bass drum, which precisely compliment the straightforward lyrical phrases, “When you feel so lonely in your heart / I’ll be by your side tonight / When the world is falling all apart / I’ll be by your side tonight.” There’s an effortless familiarity to the melodies, as if these songs were written in some bygone era.
Where Anniemal was captivating and unpredictable, Disco Romance falters as a full-length album, with the revelatory singles frontloaded on the tracklist and the rest of the record homogeneous and overlong. Agebjorn repeatedly reaches into the same bag of production tricks with diminishing returns.
Individually, the songs are club-worthy forays into electro-disco, suggesting the genre may be better relegated to EP and single releases rather than full length LPs. Disco was sustained by singles, and Disco Romance is a case in point.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars