Playing up her status as the robotic appendage of a single producer (musician Johan Agebjörn), “Sally Shapiro” has attempted to pull off a tricky proposition, deflating the allure of the pop star while siphoning its mystique into other aspects of her persona. This felt disingenuous from the start, compounded by the duo’s quasi-corporate synchronicity in pursuit of a mass-appeal sound, combining morose Italo disco with bubbly Scandinavian pop, obsessive studio tinkering with simple, repetitive song structures, and thudding dance beats with gloomy shoegaze lyricism. The results were underwhelming, and continue to be, as Somewhere Else is stocked with the same type of wispy bedroom electronica that defined their two previous albums.
This repetition actually has the strange effect of underscoring the sadness inherent in Sally Shapiro’s music, which makes the album marginally more successful than it should be. It’s almost admirable that, despite the attention initially paid to creating a brand, they’ve done almost nothing to update it, continuing to operate in their own insular reality, even as the rest of the pop world has flown on to other fixations and styles. Their lyrical focus, with its endless parade of broken-heart narratives, has by now taken on the familiar defeatism of a Ziggy comic, and hearing the doleful character of Sally Shapiro (faintly different from Sally Shapiro the group and Sally Shapiro the singer) find new love only to once again have the door slammed in her face is like watching Eeyore’s makeshift house collapse one more time.
As the hype dissipates and Sally Shapiro’s relevance fades, you can almost imagine that the depressive song cycle of Somewhere Else is less about recursive romantic travails than the burden of having to write the same sad song again and again. Nothing on the album is overtly bad (except for the goofy blather of “Starman,” notably the only upbeat love song on the album) and some of it is actually good (the wailing saxophone of “Sundown” is ghostly and surprising), but what does it offer other than comfort and familiarity? This question can probably be held off until the duo’s next release, which if current trends prevail should arrive by 2016, even further out of step with the contemporary pop landscape.