‘Wild Imagination’ is an utter joy.
Label: Moshi Moshi
Released: 2nd June 2017
After the intricate assemblies and smart, winsome wordplay of his fifth album, 2015’s ‘The Boombox Ballads’, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist wizard Sweet Baboo (born Stephen Black, from Trefriw, North Wales) was tired. He “almost packed it all in,” according to friend and collaborator Cate Le Bon. “Fortunately you cannot split up yourself.”
“Fortunately” is the word. Embracing positivity, wrenching optimism from the bloodied jaws of catastrophic current affairs (“I think everyone agrees 2016 was a pretty shitty year,” Black says), ‘Wild Imagination’ is an utter joy. With a recipe of sounds – crisp, clean guitars, synths and drum machines – far lighter than the cover’s grim buffet suggests, it’s an album about travelling and the simple joy of coming home; about fatherhood; about hope and calm amid chaos. The leisurely, easygoing title track sets a cosmic, but pastoral tone. As backing vocals swoon contentedly, the wild imagination of the title comes into play as Black and his son “blast off” like rockets. Three reflective songs follow, starting with the loungey ‘Swallows’, before the pulsing, almost submerged bass drum running under ‘Badminton’’s coy boasting (“it’ll be a landslide result”) shifts into ‘Clear Blue Skies’.
An expanse of celestial calm in the centre of the album, it’s about taking off – a lack of gravity we could all use. On the second side, ‘Hold On’ is an ode to coming home, all slow synth swells and delicate picking, while ‘Pink Rainbow’ is playful, placid funk for when “you feel a certain way/and your sugar level’s low”. After a brief spell in ‘Humberside’ (“Why am I tired?/I’ve done nothing much today”), Sweet Baboo’s off to ‘Californ-i-a’, adrift on piano and lush harmonies. It’s a gorgeous closer, in the same Beach Boys-obsessive vein as the High Llamas, or Field Music’s quietest moments. It’s an album that could be perfect for walks in the sun, or strolls through your own imagination, however wild. Rob Mesure