Having a massive debut single is both a blessing and a curse. It gets your name out there, but it can be awfully hard to live up to, a story played out time and again from acts like Gnarls Barkley, Daniel Powter, James Blunt, etc. "It's not as good as 'Black and Gold'" is something I suspect Sam Sparro will be hearing for some time. His slinky, vibrant first single is so endearing (and a massive hit) that it's hard to imagine him topping it anytime soon. On the album, it's given a slightly longer mix that allows the warm, milky synths room to build at the beginning and fade away at the end. That's the good news.
The bad news is that nothing else on this uneven album comes to matching "Black and Gold's" greatness, but there are some good moments, many of which clearly seek to emulate particular '80s artists. My vote for second-best track would have to be groovy "Hot Mess," an early-'80s Prince-like disco stomper. On an album that celebrates the past, it reaches the furthest back. Most of the tracks' inspiration comes from mid-'80s synth pop. Slinky "Too Many Questions" struts along with deep, warm synths. "21st Century Life" is pleasingly upbeat, almost clubby. I also like "Sick," which has a synth line reminiscent of Erasure. "Waiting for Time" is dreamier.
Where the album loses its way are when it gets bogged down in being a little too silly. Right in the middle, it particularly sags with the useless "Recycle It" interlude, and "Cottonmouth." I'm also not partial to most of the tracks on the second half. "Cut Me Loose" has a throbbing Frankie Goes to Hollywood beat, but not a very interesting melody. "Sally" has a good synth foundation but lacks a good hook. Messy "Clingwrap" borrows that weird instrument they used for the Seinfeld theme. Besides "Hot Mess," the only other track I really like from this part of the album is moody "Pocket." I love its "keep your friends close and your enemies in your pocket" refrain. I like that it's a little darker too.
Sam Sparro fits nicely into the current '80s pop revivalist trend, which seems to be reaching fever pitch. Everybody seems to be mining the '80s these days: indie bands, big pop acts, new pop acts, R&B, rap, you name it. It will get old soon, if it hasn't already, but until then, I'll keep on playing "Black and Gold."
Best: Black and Gold, Hot Mess, 21st Century Life, Pocket, Too Many Questions