The Wreckage is Sweet Baboo’s seventh album from a career just shy of 20 years, but his first in six. The artist aka Stephen Black has long flown under the radar, but he’s been a key part of the psychedelic Welsh art-pop community that includes Cate Le Bon and Gruff Rhys, both of whom he’s spent time collaborating with in the intervening years.
The arrangements on this album can be split roughly into piano-led yearning odes with melancholic hues, or bouncy indie-pop numbers that include horns and xylophones. Hopeless is a loose mix of the two, as Black tries his hand at a bit of lo-fi bossa nova, working his way from “hopeless” to “hopeful” by the song’s end, with the aid of some chirpy girl group backing vocals.
Horticulture speaks to his knack for getting stuck into the minutiae of things – literally into the dirt in this case. The plant metaphors abound on this one, but it’s a little on the nose. The Waitress is a better example of Black’s keen observational eye, a mini-saga packed with perfect details that describe the trivialities of waitressing, but without condescension or pity, just a hearty slice-of-life.
The Worry is ironically mostly about not worrying, with a jaunty folk-pop melody inspired by ’70s/80s children’s TV show Rainbow (the theme tune at least, not the nightmarish puppets). Good Luck sees Black handing off songwriting duties to another member of that loose Welsh collective, H. Hawkline. It’s a bit more sprightly than your average Baboo tune, but fits in with the lyrical themes of reluctant optimism. Both of these songs, along with the downcast title track, are desperately trying to manifest a sense of positivity from a world where the default position is so often negative.
Leaving behind the early instrumental variation, the second half of the album relies more on lyrical intrigue, with the best example being Herbie. Disguised as a dramatic torch song, it’s actually just Black’s thoughts about his dog wandering off and even contains some choice woofs from the mutt himself. It’s a wonderful piece of bathos that suits the low-key mood, especially given Black’s admission that the long gestation period was often “procrastinatory.” It’s of a piece with the writer’s block lament, Left Out the Door, but has a winking edge while the latter is stuck in frustration.
Sweet Baboo knows by now he’s unlikely to hit super stardom, but he’s comfortable in his niche making understated gems and waiting for the world to catch up with his quiet revolutions.