The world of alternative music is littered with songs that are sad. People regularly capture melancholy, anger and injustice. Far less common are songs that are positive, songs that are happy, songs that are optimistic. On his new album, Wild Imagination, Stephen Black, aka Sweet Baboo, sets out to walk the less trodden path to musical happiness.
Intriguingly, Wild Imagination while an upbeat record, came from a place of anger and negativity. “I think everyone agrees 2016 was a pretty shitty year,” Black explains. “I kept thinking about my son, he’s nearly 3, and wanting to protect him from the world, so I decided to try and make an album full of positivity because that’s what I know I can do. And at the moment, I don’t know what else to suggest”. The resultant album is full of positive missives; love songs to his son, his wife, and to the sheer joy of pop music itself. Songs about travelling off on adventures and songs about the joy of coming home once the adventure is finished.
The title track is the obvious jumping off point, it’s a wonderful parental musing. Stephen laying clear his hopes and dreams for his son’s life, encouraging him to reach for the stars, and hoping he can point him in the right direction. Set to the sound of bright, processed almost bossa-nova beat, he sings of trying to mold his musical tastes, noting, “you say you like dancing, I put on The Beatles and some old rock’n’roll”, as he proudly recalls his son, “bashing away at the drum-kit, I hope one day I’ll take you out on the road”. The whole track fizzed with pride, love and crucially hope, it’s as fine a musical dedication as any child could possibly hope for.
Sweet Baboo has suggested this is one of his most ambitious records, “you may as well aim high,” Stephen explains. “As with a lot of this album, I wanted to convey the sense of hope and joy I feel when I listen to Robert Wyatt or Arthur Russell singing”. The resultant record is perhaps unsurprisingly a broad musical pallet, exploring various avenues around the basic template of gently psychedelic-pop. The album often combining cheap electronic keyboards and drum machines with more polished sounding acoustic guitars and gentle flutters of electric guitars.
The gentle and slightly wistful Badminton appears to be about just that, Stephen taking on a regular rival as he targets “a land slide result” because he knows, “today I’m on a roll”. Hold On is a gorgeous musing on ageing, and the simple joys in life, it’s an upbeat acoustic ditty bookended by sweet instrumental intro/outros. It’s impossible not raise a smile as he sings with a wonderful sense of appreciation, “as we start to get older with holes in our clothes, these are wonderful times to be alive”.
Arguably some of the finest moments on the album are tucked away at the end. Pink Rainbow, is a genuinely quite sexy fusion of funk and psych-rock, Sweet Baboo inviting his loved one to join him on a magical journey, “here’s two train tickets let’s go, it’s full of coal and runs on romance, it’s really fast and full of romance”. It’s the sort of hot under the collar, swoon inducingly sultry number that’s exactly the last thing you’d expect from Sweet Baboo, but actually it makes quite a lot of sense.
Humberside is an albums worth of ideas packed into one song, from its whistling marching band intro, through to twanging Shadows-like guitar strut before it comes over all Beach Boys in the outro – and it is every bit as good as that sounds. Closing track Californ-i-a, is a nautical themed piano ballad in a distinctly Randy Newman style, full of references to heading out to sea, it peaks with the glorious, hairs on the back of the moment, as multiple voices combine to sweetly sing a round of, “baby I love you”.
Wild Imagination is a record that reminds us for all the doom and gloom, there’s always a chink of light, a pulse of positivity, as he sings on Humberside, “I have no money but I have happiness and love, but why am I tired, that should be enough”. Sometimes it’s more than enough. If 2017 is getting you down just as much as 2016 did, jump on board with Sweet Baboo, let your imagination run wild and remember that so much about life is beautiful, and sometimes that’s enough.
Wild Imagination is out June 6th via Moshi Moshi Records. Click HERE for tour dates and more information on Sweet Baboo.