Album Review: Shadow – Sweet Sweet Dreams [Analog Africa, 10th December 2016]

Sweet Sweet Dreams begins with clarity: “we gonna have a party,” put plain and simply; five words that manifest Trinidadian Shadow’s soca, party here being both a metaphor for social and cultural prosperity, and what the world means in the everyday.

There is beauty to lyrical simplicity, isn’t there? Slogans are sung melodically, in a way that burns and commits a soul. The very first song, ‘Let’s Make It Up’ begins with narrative, narrative being a key component to Shadow’s aesthetic, “we had a little quarrel / last night,” and twists into repeating the ecstatic “we gonna have a / party!” Narrative is quickly forgotten, to the benefit of just calypsoing out; simple and to the point.

“Let’s Get Together” is even better than “Let’s Make It Up” for it’s more political. ‘My days are lonely’, ‘Thinking About You’ may be targeting a significant other but the same can be said about one’s nation. It’s either a moral (political) song, big on organising a society by teaching it to couple, or political and about Trinidad. It can mean both because of the synth that feels more like struggle and fight, rather than a lovey dovey lightness when it hits you. ‘Without Love’ is pretty similar to ‘Let’s Get Together’: kinetic ideology, attempting to organise a society.

Sweet Sweet Dreams is an album of six songs. Each song is independent of the others musically, though they are all children of calypso. All, however, are great at enrapture: getting a listener to vibe extravagantly, or groove to detail if the room is right.

You could imagine song three, ‘D’Hardest’, has the most potential to fill a dance floor in our age of being conditioned by hip hop. It sells the very same stagger lee, badman, myth that has millions swept into euphoria, if not hysteria, about hip hop releases: that Shadow “is the hardest.”

‘Way Way Out’ is the final song. From beginning to end, the album sweeps us with its ambition and its understanding of a musical genre. ‘Way Way Out’ is almost too honest to belong to the very same album as ‘Let’s Get Together’. Here we are faced with an entirely new direction that tells us that Sweet Sweet Dreams is an album about the promise, and the actualisation of a good time, but also the underbelly of it: that a man can find himself singing that a woman is “way way out of my mind” at the end, because of his experience, and that the same can happen to a woman.

A believer he was to release such music, as many men were in the 1980’s. In 1984, his native Trinidad had been independent for about 22 years, and a parliamentary democracy for less than 10. Nightclubs were in vogue around the world, and so were pro-proletariat politics, until the much broadcasted fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Sweet Sweet Dreams seems to be the music of a man of his time, optimistic about the wonderment, despite some bitterness, that can come with life in Trinidad.