Album Reviews

Sweet Baboo – The Wreckage

(Moshi Moshi) UK release date: 27 January 2023

Another typically beguiling offering of joyful, uplifting whimsy from Stephen Black that documents the beauty of the everyday Sweet Baboo - The Wreckage

Stephen Black, also known as Sweet Baboo, has been a pivotal figure on the Welsh music scene for about 20 years now. He’s collaborated with people like Cate Le Bon, Gruff Rhys and Euros Childs, but it’s his solo work where Black really shines. The Wreckage is his first album for six years, but from the first note it’s as comforting as slipping on an old cardigan.

These are songs about the beauty of mundanity. There may not be any high stakes in Black’s songs – there are numbers about walking dogs, taking care of plants and working in a Welsh cafe – but there’s a tenderness in Black’s musical sketches that you can’t help but root for.

Hopeless opens the album in a gentle manner, its bossa-nova rhythm feeling immediately beguiling, before the excellent The Worry brings back memories of Badly Drawn Boy with its insistent piano and brass. Again, the message is simple – just Black telling his family not to worry about stuff – but there’s a joyful, uplifting quality to the whimsy.

Black is a multi-instrumentalist who plays bass, sax, flute, synth and piano on the album (interestingly though, there are no electric guitars on the album – a rule instigated by Black “for no reason, just to see…why not?”), but The Wreckage is a real team effort. As well as his band featuring fellow Welsh musician H Hawkline (who writes the standout track Good Luck), there’s also a songwriting contribution from bandmate Georgia Ruth on The Waitress, a lovely piano ballad about her time working in a cafe.

There’s a slightly droney, psychedelic tinge to tracks like Horticulture (whittled down from its original nine minute version), and the spacey synths and backing vocals give Herbie (named after Black’s dog, who also makes an appearance on the track) lends it a woozy, dreamy atmosphere. Goodbye may have the sound of a bittersweet sign-off to a relationship, but it’s simply an apology to a friend’s dog who looks sad when Black finishes their walk.

Some people may find this all a bit too whimsical – and it’s true that at moments, it threatens to make The Divine Comedy sound like Rage Against The Machine – but Black has an immense skill in making the everyday sound important. The closing title track has an epic sound to it, with Black singing “don’t give up on me”, which turns out to be inspired by a story from his young son about an imaginary character called Johnny The Water trapped underwater.

It’s a typically beguiling way for Sweet Baboo to close the album – this is probably not a record which will trouble the charts, but for anyone who’s been charmed by Steven Black’s music over the years, this will be another little low-key delight.

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More on Sweet Baboo
Sweet Baboo – The Wreckage
Sweet Baboo – The Boombox Ballads
Sweet Baboo – Ships
Sweet Baboo – Hello Wave
The School + Sweet Baboo + The Deirdres @ Club Ifor Bach, Cardiff