I’ve commented more times than I can remember on this blog about the staggering amount of musical talent that continues to emanate from the United Kingdom. One of the many British acts I’ve been following for more than four years is the charismatic young rock band Wild Horse. Based in Heathfield, East Sussex, the talented trio consists of brothers Henry and Jack Baldwin, and their long-time friend Ed Barnes. Now in their early 20s, the guys are already seasoned musicians who’ve been writing and recording songs since forming in 2013 when they were barely teenagers. Both Henry and Jack are multi-instrumentalists who play guitar, bass and keyboards, as well as sing vocals, while Ed plays drums and percussion, sings backing vocals and plays guitar on a few tracks.
While presenting a fun, lighthearted image with their high-energy and eclectic punk-infused style of blues rock, the guys take their music very seriously. Their dedication and drive, fortified with thoughtful lyricism, ace musicianship and a mature approach towards the music business, have taken them far and brought them both critical acclaim and a loyal and growing fan base. The Baldwin brothers are also prolific songwriters who’ve penned hundreds of songs over the years, and now have five albums to their credit.
Their debut album It’s Begun, featuring songs recorded when their average age was only 14, was released in January 2016 by a New York-based record label they were signed with at the time. (Henry sang lead vocals on that album, where he sounded alarmingly like a young Mick Jagger.) Working independently since 2017, the guys subsequently released three EPs from late 2017 to early 2018, then followed that June with their second album Songs About Last Night. They’ve continued to drop a new album every year since then. In April 2019, they released their third album DANCE!! Like An Animal, which I reviewed, then followed up in July 2020 with their fourth album WE ARE IN AN IDENTITY CRISES…BUT WE LOVE IT, featuring 16 tracks. Now they’re back with their fifth album When The Pool Is Occupied, which dropped November 18th. Their most ambitious work yet, the album contains a whopping 18 tracks!
Before I get to my review, I want to include a few thoughts about the album the guys shared in an interview for Brighton and Hove webzine BN1. “The album name ‘When the Pool is Occupied’ is actually a metaphor for self-love. We realised that this was the theme of the album quite late into the making of it. When we started writing the album, we were not in the best place personally, with lockdown giving us anxieties about the future and the direction we were going in our lives. As we neared the end of making the album we were in a much better place, as the whole process actually taught us a lot about ourselves, and we decided to make it our most honest record. So the album has become a musical imprint of our journey to self-love and happiness, which we hope everyone who listens will be able to relate to!
This album is definitely more mellow and that is down to a few things. Firstly, we didn’t want to be perceived as just a rock band anymore, and wanted to push the boundaries as much as we possibly could. We wanted our first record back after covid to be one that would make people dance, hence the strong disco and 80’s influence. Also, we took a new approach to writing and creating music in not only taking the reins on production, but also because Jack (our main songwriter) taught himself piano over lockdown and began writing songs on [piano], which gave us a whole new feel. From there, synths became a much more integral part of our sound, and we became really obsessed with creating an atmosphere in our music. Our previous albums were all recorded quite quickly, whereas this one took us over a year. The main difference is that every single tiny note and lyric on this album had so much thought put into it, which is why we’re so proud of it.”
Well, let me say that Wild Horse has created a near-epic album running just over an hour in length, and featuring 18 wonderful tracks that span across genres from rousing post-punk bangers to angst-filled piano ballads to bouncy dance-pop gems. The songs explore issues related to growing up in the modern world, relationships, struggles with addiction and mental health, and the long journey towards self-acceptance and self-love.
Opening track “Happy Love Songs” is a short and bittersweet piano-driven tune that sets the tone for the album. In his quirky endearing vocals, Jack plaintively laments “Why are there never happy love songs anymore? It takes two to fall in love, but it only takes one to fall apart. And then there’s never.” The song immediately segues into “Freaky Together“, a catchy, lighthearted earworm celebrating the liberating freedom of a no-strings-attached approach to relationships and life (ah, the joys of youth). The guys layer jangly guitars and woozy synths over a delightfully funky bassline and thumping drumbeats to create a fun and sexy dance beat that aims straight for the hips. Jack croons “Baby, I know that you could never need me. But come on let’s get down and dirty. Oh yeah, Oh, give it to me.” The sweet video nicely showcases the guys’ youthful charm and charisma.
The guys keep the lively vibes going with the delectable “Pornstar Martini“, an irresistibly bouncy mashup of punk, disco and funk, then later slow things down with “Coffee In The Morning“, the first of several romantic piano ballads. Jack’s heartfelt vocals are raspy and vulnerable as he sings of his ardor and desire to a potential romantic partner: “I’m sitting in my dirty University room. Haven’t slept for days now. And I was hoping that you could come around and stay, for 17 days.” But once they’ve become a couple, cracks appear in their relationship, which are explored on the lovely but bittersweet “Feel“: “I wanna talk to you about last night. You know I hate it how we always fight. But if you saw the world through my eyes, then you would understand about the way I feel.” And on “Symphony of Broken Hearts“, Jack sings of the pain he’s feeling over a broken relationship: “You said forever, and then you couldn’t stay. You said forever, until you walked away. And now I’m lying on my own, feeling sorry for myself.“
One of my favorites on the album is “Anxiety“, a joyful, upbeat song about the emotional roller-coaster ride we willingly take when attraction for another hits us like a ton of bricks, rendering us helpless in the throes of passionate longing. I love the exuberant synths, funky dance grooves and the guys’ beautiful vocal harmonies. Jack’s plaintive vocals sing of emotions we’ve all felt at some point in our lives, fearful we’ll make a fool of ourselves: “Petrified by the things you say (petrified). I only met you yesterday (yesterday). But really I’m fine. I’m just going with the groove. Only been preparing for like 24 hours through.”
Another favorite is the ebullient and sexy “Pray 89“, in which the guys sing the praises of a seemingly more innocent time (although those of us who were already adults in 1989 know it really wasn’t) and the freedom of living a life where self-love without emotional attachments is prioritized, but with an appreciation of the beauty in other people. The lyrics include the album’s title: “You bring the fire and sexy eyes. I bring the smoke to stay alight. When we go party we’ll do it right, like we belong in ‘89. Dance on the table to New Order’s new song. And we’ll be feeling alright when the pool is occupied.”
The guys’ willingness to venture out of their musical comfort zone is exemplified by the bluesy hip hop track “Confidence“, on which Henry’s backing vocals are more prominent. On the poignant “Just About Enough”, they turn tinkling piano keys into a true percussive instrument as they combine them with assertive strummed guitar notes and pounding drumbeats to become a powerful driving force, before finishing things off with gorgeous bluesy guitars, accompanied by Jack’s fervent vocals. And on “One Night Robbery“, Jack does a decent job rapping some of the verses letting a former girlfriend know he doesn’t appreciate how she used him and only wanted his money after all the nice things he did for her.
Hands down the most charming track on the album is “Record Collection“, a delightful pop-rock song with a retro 60s power pop vibe. The sweet lyrics speak of connecting with someone you meet on a night out and taking them home, not because you want to have sex with them, but because you like their taste in music and want to share your record collection with them: “I don’t wanna be your lover. I just wanna show you my record collection. I don’t wanna get under the covers. I just wanna know if you like Mott the Hoople. I don’t wanna touch your hand. Just tell me your favourite band. Oh, the only thing I’m turning on is the record player.” I love the jangly guitars on this song.
“Kelsie” is a shining example of how a kiss-off song can still sound sweet. “Kelsie, you’re much happier on Twitter. But you want me back on tinder. And I just laugh and smile ‘cause I’m finally over you. Have you noticed I don’t care what you do? When you tell me you’re getting drinks bought for you. Shit, me too.” The track has a mellow, head-bopping melody with subtle hip hop elements, making for a really pleasing tune. The guys close the album on a positive note with “Thank You (It’s Gonna Be Alright)“, a minute-long piece with a church-like organ riff accompanied by Jack’s echoed vocal repeating the words “It’s gonna be alright“, followed by “The pool is occupied.” As the music abruptly ends, he says “And that was the album, thank you very much. Woo!”
Woo indeed! What a fun, delightful and brilliant album this is! With When The Pool is Occupied, Wild Horse pushed themselves into expanding their songwriting and sound in the hopes of making their most honest record yet, and I think they’ve succeeded quite nicely. It showcases their continued growth and maturity as songwriters and musicians, while their sense of humor and playfulness remains fully intact.