Sam Sparro: Sam Sparro

The latest electro wunderkind follows in the forgettable footsteps of Calvin Harris.

Sam Sparro

Sam Sparro

Label: Island
US Release Date: 2008-06-24
UK Release Date: 2008-04-28

Sam Sparro is a young artist who fits easily into the cadre of artists purveying the sort of watered-down soul that passes for Top 40 dance music. In the UK, this music has catapulted off the twin popularity of Amy Winehouse's white soul and the electro scene, and has a strong hold on the less progressive dance clubs. And what makes Sam Sparro different from all of them? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Look, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with populism. Pop music, and dance-pop, can be sparkling and euphoric (see Annie). Soul music, even when leveraged into a modern electronic context, can be exuberant and celebratory (see Jamie Liddell). But somehow their combination often comes out feeling, well, somewhat mercenary. I'm thinking of Calvin Harris, of course, but also Young Love from last year; both artists have the spark of momentary success, but don't have much substance. Sam Sparro, even more than these other artists, seems to be the product of a powerful PR machine. Born in Sydney, he grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in London; he's been around the acting and recording industries for a while, and though Sam Sparro is his debut, the singles "Black & Gold" and "Cottonmouth" are (above anything else) confident.

Classic soul rhythms and melodic tropes are all over Sam Sparro, so that when songs are successful, you're not quite sure if it's on their own merit or through association. "Black & Gold" marries familiar Big Beat house music tropes with full soul instrumentation, but the chorus only becomes memorable through sheer repetition. At the end, the beat cuts out and vocodered vocals layer up for a robotic stab at intimacy. On "Too Many Questions", it's plodding synth bass line and fake string hits. On "21st Century Life", it's jumpy funk and '80s/echoing percussion. None of these things are terribly off-point on their own; they just add up to a not-very-outstanding whole. Truth is, if you were after real soul music, you'd listen to Jamie Liddell.

Sonically, the most interesting thing on the album might be the short interlude "Recycle It!", in which a beatbox-y beat momentarily recalls Matthew Herbert; even this is somewhat compromised by the cheesy French vocals reminiscent of Flight of the Conchords. The jokey aspect of a number of Sparro's songs is difficult to parse: is he making fun of himself? Or is he pretending to do so in order to retain the appearance of detached irony? I suspect the latter. "Cottonmouth", for example, appears to be ridiculing the dangers of getting high when you should be working, but in reality it's a celebration. Groups like Chromeo tackle the ironic electro Romeo role with much more intelligence and panache.

Sparro's voice is smooth enough, and is thrown around with enough vigor, to signal the soul touchstones he references -- but on the ballads, and when he reaches for falsetto, it slips flat or becomes thin. The most obvious example is "Still Hungry", which shoots for sympathetic characterization but falls flat. Sparro tries to illustrate the irony of the battler (he's got to "scrounge for 2 weeks" because he "bought a pair of $250 jeans"), and though the babble of voices in the background's meant to illustrate that no one cares, the point of the whole song is steeped in self-pity. He got it right, though -- if he did spend all his money on jeans, we really don't care.

So as things go along, the similar, recycled beats meld into one another with little to distinguish them. They're set in similar vocal ranges and shuttle between minor differences in tempo. On "Cut Me Loose", Sparro declares: "Nothing cuts me loose like music / I cut the rug up all night long when I hear my favourite song". Words may be true, but I wager the song that causes that reaction in most of his listeners won't be found on Sam Sparro.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.