Described by muse Cate Le Bon as “the most androgynous woman since Mo Tucker”, Sweet Baboo a.k.a. Cardiff based musician Stephen Black, recently spent a “wild week” in North Wales putting together his latest LP ‘Wild Imagination’ – An ode to the little things and starry eyed views, making a break for it and swollen hearts.
In previous LP ‘The Boombox Ballads’ (released in August 2015), there was an album that felt like the listener was holed up in a warm cottage somewhere, staying in during the evenings, boogying in the living room to Northern Soul records and revelling in the small delights of the world. On Wild Imagination, the listener is transported elsewhere, but you still have the impression of being fully immersed in the charming, not-quite-but-almost twee world of Sweet Baboo.
Gardening seems to be a hot topic for our Stephen (who cited the 1976 Mort Garson album ‘Plantasia’ as an inspiration) and the new album, quite rightly, opens up with ‘The Gardener‘, a jovial little instrumental that acts as the perfect introduction. Almost like the sun rising on the day, it’s the stretching of the legs and blinking of the eyes to greet the impending nine songs that await. It’s swiftly followed by the dreamy title track ‘Wild Imagination’ – A whimsical delight, overloaded with charm. An undeniable love song from an undeniable lovely man, it features the most infectious of ‘oh-woahs’.
Lead single ‘Badminton‘ is a sugar coated highlight, giving one the feeling of floating across one of those ‘lazy rivers’ you get in jumped up American waterparks. Its soft, luscious synth has an untold hypnotic effect. Vocally, it’s got such a heart breaking quality, though amusingly it’s lyrically more to do with the actually sport of badminton (which, let’s face it, can be pretty heartbreaking if you’re on the receiving end of a thrashing). The replayability is off the charts on this one. Much floating, almost comatose.
‘The Night Gardener’ breaks up the record at the halfway point, the rubbing your eyes and going to bed synth-heavy delightful sibling of the aforementioned Gardener. From here we’re treated to the angelic ‘Hold On’, similar in tone and style to The Boombox Ballads (with the heart-warming ‘You shoot me a grin /send me in a spin’), the uplifting dewy-eyed romp that is ‘Humberside‘, complete with a brilliant Western movie whistle and geetar combo, and the hopeful, dreamlike ‘Californ-i-a‘ closer.
But nothing on side 2 comes close to the funky as-you-like ‘Pink Rainbow’. Eight songs into the record, it’s Sweet Baboo at his finest. When Pink Rainbow kicks in, it’s impossible not to get up on your feet and imitate a big old Jagger walk across the room. With the sweetest of Chic-esque guitar licks and soaring chorus, it’s all going super-funky. Then you hear that keyboard solo – good lord! Hits you like a ton of funk-bricks. There’s a face you pull at moments like these, scrunching up ones face at the POWER (we like to crudely call it ‘Smell-the-shit’) – here it’s unavoidable. That wigging out keyboard makes a joyous return toward the ends as Paul Jones riffs out like a mad man.
Whilst I’m sure it wouldn’t be considered a concept album, Wild Imagination has all the trappings of one, exploring many similar themes throughout its more than welcome stay. It’s more so that it’s far too easy to get lost in a Sweet Baboo record, with this latest LP being no different. Sublime.