In a world where Miley Cyrus hates exactly seven things, the Jonas Brothers are burning up, and The Pussycat Dolls want to "grow up" and become whores (dream big!), a star with a little depth and soul is sorely needed. Sam Sparro, a gay Australian gospel singer, has arrived to fill the void in everyone's iTunes libraries--you know, the empty space in between all of your guilty pleasures. Because, you see, Sparro's debut is just commercial enough that everything clicks, but eccentric enough that you can feel selective and unique when listening to it.
Over the course of the album's 55 minutes, ten of which aren't necessary, listeners will be warped to a planet where life is sparkly and spray-painted, everyone's sexy, and there's really no reason to leave the dance floor. Sparro is an artist of transportation, and the tracks on Sam Sparro are a testament to his ability to take concepts that are entirely unoriginal and infuse them with, well, magic.
There are missteps, however, and they begin early; the opening track is not only grating, but contains few musical qualities beyond the garbage-lid drum line. Sparro is a pretty smooth guy, so spitting words like "seductive" and "in the mood" in his overly digitalized vocal track almost works, but falls short when compared to other electronic artists like Daft Punk, a group that is most likely the primary inspiration for this album--even if Sparro won't admit it. There are traces of Confessions-era Madonna, Goldfrapp, and more recently, Australia's own Kylie Minogue. "Speakerphone," off of Minogue's X, could easily fit into Sparro's synthesized set.
Rather than jumping into the fastest cuts, Sparro lets the album burn slowly. (I said he's a smooth guy.) Enough has been written about "Black & Gold," even on this blog, but Sparro's sensual touch is undeniable here. The bass slowly creeps in, Sparro withholding the vocals until the sixty second mark. The lyrics on "Black & Gold," however cryptic, are bizarrely energetic--he begins with a casual reflection on Darwinism, and bursts into "nothing but black!" halfway through the song, bringing to mind the image of a solar system strobing to the monotonous, double-time synths.
"Too Many Questions" follows, and while considerably less exciting on a visceral level, the track is far more stimulating lyrically: "I will go without hesitation/to my own unknown destination/with the music like syncopation/and explore my own imagination." It sounds rhyme-y on paper, but Sparro's delivery is extremely strong rhythmically, so strong you may be singing the chorus on repeat for a few days. Sparro reaches his emotional peak on this track early on, which is to his advantage; the rest of the songs on "Sparro" are too busy having fun to notice the crying kid in the corner. But who's complaining? No one wants to dance with that kid anyway.
The rest of the album is hit or miss as a whole, but Sparro has shuffled the tracks in a clever way as to make songs like "Sick"--a beautifully-produced club track with a futuristic melody but a trite hook--seem more interesting when stuffed between far better material. In other words, he's squishing Crisco in a non-fat formula. "21st Century Life"--of the lean, non-fat variety--is another early highlight, despite its tonal similarities to Seal's "Get It Together" off of Seal IV.
After the useless and wholly uninteresting couple of "Waiting for Time" and "Recycle it!" (the latter reminiscent of the interludes on Justin Timberlake's Future Sex/Love Sounds), Sparro hits gold with "Cotton Mouth," a creole-tinged confession of drug use and alcohol. Or, "polluted water." The following track, "Hot Mess," is another fatty filler, but is buoyed by "Pocket," Sparro's cautionary tale of enemies he let slip away. Sparro shows a bit of emotion here, which is nice after the dry "Mess," and one cannot help but wonder if his sexuality is the origin of his enemies' animosity. Even if that is not the case, Sparro should consider the consequences of his honesty. Sure, the critics like him, but they all declare him "this year's Scissor Sisters" or "the new Mika"--openly gay musicians they pin to Sparro because of his homosexuality. Not only is this a narrow way to critique Sparro, far more talented than either of the latter, but it adds depth to the lyrics of "Pocket": "Keep your friends close, and your enemies in your pocket." Rolling Stone is not a homophobic magazine--in fact, they are aggressively anti-homophobic, bordering on maniacally accepting of minorities--yet they still stuck Sparro in a box by comparing him to gay contemporaries. But they gave him a good review, so are they his friends? Or enemies he let slip away? The song was written beforehand, anyways, so clearly it's not about Rolling Stone, but it's an interesting thought.
It's a good thing all that introspection is rewarded by the strongest track on the album, "Cut Me Loose," a no-nonsense, no-comprehension-necessary dance cut in which Sparro tells a female club goer "I can't leave right now/these tunes are serious!" When Sparro's having fun, it doesn't ooze through the speakers. It gushes. On "Cut Me Loose," the bass line is heavy and the synths are so hyperactive they seem to stutter in their delivery, overwhelmed by the excitement of Sparro's rapid-fire chorus. More than any other song on the album, "Loose" embodies the spirit of dance, and more importantly, the qualities in music that transport listeners.
Closing with the paradoxical "Still Hungry," a song with both humor and heart, Sparro drops us back off on planet earth, where the butter, sadly, has 145 calories per tablespoon, and the girl who walks up to you on the dance floor is probably drunk--or maybe that's just a personal experience. Regardless of your earthly encounters, "Sam Sparro" is an album that belongs in your 2008 library. It has weak tracks, but like anything glittery, there has to be something for the diamonds to be compared to--and the diamonds on Sparro's debut far outshine the dull spots.