Sam Sparro, ’80s soul enthusiast and studied dance music expert, should make a killing in 2008. Not only has he got the ‘soul’ label nipping at his heels – a profitable tag to be courting at the moment, what with the successes of Adele and Duffy – he’s also proved, with ‘Black And Gold’, that he can do informed, grown-up dance music too. And since Neon Neon and Hercules And Love Affair have established clever electro nostalgia as one of the year’s key diversions, Sparro has all bases covered: he just needs to sit back and wait for the tills to start ringing.
He shouldn’t have any problems rinsing ‘Sam Sparro’ for all its worth, either. Out of the 13 tracks there are easily six chart-friendly singles and, although none are as fully formed as the enormous ‘Black And Gold’, we’re talking Mark Ronson levels of commercial nous. ‘21st Century Life’ is all slap-bass disco bombast. ‘Pocket’ squeezes a devastating melody into a desperately catchy house track. ‘Sally’ sets up a mountain of Jamie Lidell ambitions and does a damn good job of scaling it. Then ‘Hot Mess’ comes along, rampaging through the legacy of pre-God Prince and an embarrassing opening line (“I know you fancy yourself as a sexy bitch…”).
And Prince is part of the reason that this album is likeable and not loveable. It’s too easy to draw comparisons with the obvious influences here – and nobody looks good next to Prince. While Hercules and Neon Neon took their dance nostalgia and turned it into something smart and new, ‘Sam Sparro’ too often sounds like it’s come straight out of an electro-funk generator – perfect reference points intact, but not developed or built upon or made unique. Occasionally, it descends into the weird.‘Recycle It!’ is a minute-long skit with a French-accented Sparro reciting a list of modern ephemera – sneakers, CD case, computer, “underpant” – against a schoolyard chant of “Stop! Think about it! Don’t throw it away!” And where Prince is clever enough to make his saucy ambitions sound suitably seedy, Sparro’s lyrics are often clunky – see ‘Cling Wrap’ (“You must have thought I was your snack/Because you’re sticking to me like cling wrap… scoobee-doo-bop-bop”; there’s disbelief the first time you hear it, then he sings it again).
‘Black And Gold’ has set a high bar for Sam Sparro and ‘Sam Sparro’ never quite reaches that again. The album is peppered with James Brown “uh!”s which suggest enormous self-belief, but the straight-forward pastiche of tracks such as ‘Hot Mess’ undermine that front by revealing a lack of confidence in his own individuality.Give him the year of the exposure that this album will no doubt bring, though, and we’re betting that album number two will be a killer.