Album Review: Sweet Baboo – Ships

By on Tuesday, 23rd April 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Sweet Baboo Ships coverOne of the greatest pitfalls as a music editor is the ongoing whinge that it will always be humanly impossible to check out every single band I’ve been recommended to check out by all my music business acquaintances. Sweet Baboo, aka the all too cute stage name of Welsh singer/songwriter Stephen Black, has been a longtime favourite of BBC 6music Marc Riley and I’ll be honest, just hearing the name of the act would send me into a fit of giggles.

Surely you can’t be serious, eh? I mean, come now. It conjures up images of Charlie Brown’s sister Sally chasing around her childhood sweetheart, the blanket-wielding Linus Van Pelt, in the annoying, sickly sweet way that only little kids can be in the state of one-way puppy love. But maybe that is exactly what Black was going for with the name, for his latest album ‘Ships’ could be best described as sweet, disarming, idiosyncratic pop. God willing I will be seeing the man at King Tut’s next month and I’m very excited about this, and I will tell you why.

This past weekend, Cheryl and some friends of ours went to go see the Joy Formidable, who, coincidentally enough, has their roots in Wales as well. One of the opening bands had a singer that sung in this high-pitched, baby-like voice that drove me bananas. I bring this up because Black, while you could argue he sings in a somewhat funny, sing-song way, and in an entirely different way than most male vocalists you are likely to encounter these days, it’s entirely endearing. This is achieved also in a way not unlike Camera Obscura, with lush layered instrumentation with many less usual suspects in pop, such as first single ‘Let’s Go Swimming Wild’, a lilting minor-chord organ number that opens its arms wide for the uplifting chorus.

The only thing that could be said to be similar to other pop records is the underlying theme of love. But even then, Black takes an unconventional approach to waxing philosophical about the apple of his eye that, evidently, he’s lost. Morse code is hilariously tapped for ‘The Morse Code for Love is Beep Beep, Beep Beep, The Binary Code is One One’. The cheers and heys of the driving ‘Build You a Butterfly’ just sounds like a good time; it would be a good encore number, so I’m wondering why it was placed second to last instead of dead last, as the song ends with “I’ll make sure you’ll be all right”. Sigh.

Black then pledges his love “will always be my baby” in what sounds like an Alice in Wonderland fantasy with “giant ladybugs outside” bring this person back to him in ‘Twelve Carrots of Love’. He dreams of catching a whale for a ride and then drinking coconut milk with his baby in the far too precious ‘Chubby Cheeks’. ‘If I Died’ (video below), the current single, has a fatalist theme: would a former lover remember you after you’re gone? Despite its sweet pop melody and jammy synth bridge, the take home message still is a melancholy one (“if I died / would you remember that you loved me? / if I died / I guess I’d never know”).

However, there are some less entertaining and more overbearing tracks. In light of the previous stellar tracks, ‘You Are a Wave’ is jus hohum. Not bad, but not terribly inspiring either. The same could be said for ‘The Sea Life is the Life for Me (Mermaid Cutie)’ earns many points for actually sounding like it was recorded underwater. (Maybe it was? And ‘Cate’s Song’ as well?) ‘8 Bit Monsters’ has a buzzing tuba and a wonky oompah beat. Despite a song that comes across emphatic with punctuation and potentially exciting, ‘C’mon Let’s Mosh!’ is sonically and lyrically a letdown.

Bottom line though, it’s far too easy to play pop ‘straight’ and that’s why most of the records coming out these days that purport to be ‘pop’ sound too similar. Quirky, fun, and thoughtful, the singles of Sweet Baboo’s ‘Ships’ come across as an antidote to all of that. But there are some challenging numbers that may either leave new listeners disappointed.

7/10

‘Ships’, the new album from Sweet Baboo, is out now on Moshi Moshi, Stephen Black’s first for the label.

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[…] you like to say to your adoring fans? GO. Tom: Go listen to Sweet Baboo. [I concur. Start with 'Ships'. – Ed.] George: There are times when I still find it strange that there are people out there that […]

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