Sam Sparro’s return wears its late ‘80s, early ‘90s influences on its sleeves, both sounds always a safe bet. What it lacks in novelty it makes up for in fun.
The voice behind “Black & Gold,” a song with as many covers as “Jolene” or “Passionfruit,” now gets his own chance to imitate. Songwriter and vocalist Sam Sparro refits much of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s into his newest album, the joyous Boombox Eternal.
Sparro paved much of the way for electropop crooning, with people such as Alex Clare, Ellie Goulding and Sam Smith dipping into his well for inspiration. His debut and follow-up features the kind of retro heavy disco and synth pop that’s all the rage. An advocate for catharsis through the club, Boombox Eternal clearly considers a good time more important than innovation. Sounds of the ‘80s, from New Jack Swing (“Love Like That”) to new wave (“Marvelous Lover”), remain eternal as ever. Sparro named Swedish duo Roxette as a major influence on his latest album; their impact comes through clearly, alongside hints of Janet Jackson. The buoyant joy of “When I Think Of You” provides the fuel behind “Everything.”
Drawing so heavily from others, Boombox Eternal doesn’t stand out on its own. Sparro’s talent is unquestionable, but it can’t help the songs from sounding familiar. “Love Like That” doubles as a Bobby Brown song, and “Vibe Forever” goes “on, and on, and on, and oOOOONN” too much like “Don’t Stop Believing.” The song featuring We Are King? sounds exactly like We Are King.
The songs aren’t bad – but they’re not especially original. Even the writing is clichéd, with songs beginning on such obvious lines as “Pressure coming down on me.” What starts with promise on the driving “THE PPL” quickly stalls out on a draggy, expected chorus about “the people,” who remain a mystery. That said, the Maluca feature is a nice touch.
That said, none of Boombox Eternal sounds especially bad. And littered throughout it are little gems of songwriting and melody that are worth the search. “Eye 2 Eye” blooms into a chorus of heaven-sent synths, but Sparro’s earnest voice keeps the track grounded just enough. The eighth-note pan flute flourish in “Pressure” may be the best part of all, a playful element that one wishes to see make a bigger splash in modern music.
That playfulness ties together with themes of hope and wonder, all of which form the crux of Sam Sparro’s return. As everyday life grows more dire by the day, nostalgia offers a warm blanket with which one might find escape. It’s important not to lose yourself in the past, but every so often, visiting those memories helps make the present just a little brighter.