There’s an endearing sense of modesty to a line like “Daniel Johnston has hundreds of great tunes, and I’ve got six”, especially when it’s sung in the chorus of the first song of an 11-track album. The trouble is, however, is that it’s more flatly accurate than self-deprecating, with the songs on Sweet Baboo's Ships flirting around the lines between endearingly charming and sickeningly twee; getting by on heart and frankly underdeveloped. In the main, it nudges itself over into the sweet spot, but occasionally it falls a few inches over the foul line, and rarely does it make an impactful impression in spite of its regal pomp from a cornerstone of assured brass.
One of the foremost dynamics on Ships is the dissonance between the meekness of the songs’ vulnerability – embodied by the warbling tones of Stephen Black himself, and his jangly guitar work – and the towering brass section which backs his lovelorn fantasies of recovered loss. On opening track ‘If I Died’ the knowingly stark contrast between form and content rescues the lyricism from the macabre – lending lines like “if I died, would you remember that you left me?” a sense of overblown pomp, of which a straighter delivery would feel the absence. However, elsewhere, the arrangements are sadly kitsch. Second track ‘The Morse Code For Love’ grates with a static staccato and repetitive lyric emulating morse code and binary, ending up as annoying as the former and as boring as the latter, no matter how many horns and cutesy codas Baboo throws into the mix.
To its credit, a certain flair in the delivery injects even the album’s waltzes with a sense of gusto and pomp. Single ‘Let’s Go Swimming Wild’ has much more spunk than your average slow dance, and this extends throughout the whole record – even at its most down tempo, Ships exudes a real dynamism and thrust to its rhythmic backbone. And similarly, when the sugariness of Baboo's lyricism sticks the landing, the songs congeal into something endearing – verses about swimming alongside fish and promising them that he’s going to find love soon sound like a long shot written on paper. But, at his peaks, Baboo pulls off these moments of gingerbread honesty, if only by the skin of his teeth.
Ships will likely shed a few listeners by ramping up the sickliness with passages like “if I had a drum and you had a slightly more high pitched drum, and we bang the shit out of our drums, and fill our hearts up with love”. But just as likely, he’ll win over as many listeners by giving full credit to the earnest feeling he’s attempting to convey and going as big as he dares,; committing to a regal swell of rat-a-tat rhythms and full blooded horns – a textural decision which isn’t a natural vehicle of expression for his vulnerable guitar work and bedroom song writing. And for this, Sweet Baboo deserves to be commended, even as his album’s first chorus proves sadly accurate.
6Russell Warfield's Score