A new album by Sweet Baboo, aka Cardiff-based (via North Wales) musician Stephen Black, is cause for celebration at the best of times. So, the news that Black has pretty much written his sixth album to counteract the pretty awful year that was 2016 is welcome indeed.
With the controls set firmly to ‘positivity’ then, the Wild Imagination journey begins with a short, tentative instrumental that is apparently based around the idea of the intro to The Beach Boys‘ ‘California Girls’ and in the event sounds like a hybrid of that and Bjork‘s ‘The Anchor Song’. So far so good. The album then leaps into life with its title track, a sweet missive to Black’s 3-year-old son, featuring some of his trademark warm-hearted lyrics: “You say you like dancing / I put on The Beatles and some old rock’n’roll / You bash away at the drum kit, oh I know / One day I hope I’ll take you out on the road.” It is as good as anything he has ever recorded and bounces along absolutely joyfully.
The album is largely built around Casio keyboards and rhythms, which is a departure from the grandiose string-led Boombox Ballads, Black’s previous album from 2015. ‘Swallows’ was the first song written for the album and takes things down a little from the title track, while ‘Badminton’, being the first song shared from the album and its first single, proves itself to be something of a red herring with its stripped-down, minimal backing and some of Black’s more introspective lyrics.
Like the remarkable ‘Two Lucky Magpies’ from the aforementioned Boombox Ballads, Black has placed another epic song around the centre of the album, (last song on ‘Side One’ if you are spinning the plastic); ‘Clear Blue Skies’ is a thoughtful and delicate song about Black and his son blasting off into space.
A companion piece to the album’s opening track, this time entitled ‘The Night Gardener’, and again a short instrumental, starts off the second half of the record, before ‘Hold On’, a song apparently about the joys of returning home after time on tour, takes over: “Hold on to that smile / That smile makes coming home worthwhile” sings Black before recalling a time when “The main roads were closed / I’m so far from home / No radio, the radio was broke.” The pictures painted are vivid and real, happy-sad and so affecting.
New single ‘Pink Rainbow’ brings a funky baseline, some more of those synthetic rhythms and a sublime keyboard riff as it soars off into the distance, again exploring the subject of travel – a train that runs on romance, no less, while ‘Humberside’ is a more typical Sweet Baboo song: “Let’s take a ride to Humberside” opines Black, before one song later, on the album’s closer, switching focus to sunny West Coast USA: ‘Californ-i-a’ is absolutely stunning, Black’s very own ‘Surf’s Up’, complete with bittersweet piano and really touching harmonies.
On Wild Imagination, Stephen Black has delivered a glorious, romantic antidote to the troubled times in which we live. The world is a happier place with this record in it.
Wild Imagination is released on Moshi Moshi on Friday 2nd June 2017.