Illustration from a catalog for American Playground Device Co., 1935
I purchased If Wishes Were Horses under false pretenses. I got Blueboy confused with Ballboy, a Scottish band that people put in the "Recommended if You Like Belle & Sebastian" file. It looked like a Belle & Sebastian kind of thing - originally released on Sarah Records, the album had a pastel-tinted cover photo and song titles like "A Gentle Sigh" and "Fondette". As it turns out, Blueboy is also a Belle & Sebastian-esque group, but they were early-'90s progenitors of the B&S indie-pop sound (where Ballboy were progeny of the late-'90s Scottish twee-splosion). So I kind of got what I was looking for, in a roundabout way.
If Wishes Were Horses was Blueboy's 1992 full-length debut, built around the songs of Reading, UK singer Keith Girdler and guitarist Paul Stewart. The recent reissue of the album includes eleven (!) bonus tracks, covering the four singles issued before and after the LP came out. It's good that the singles tracks are included because I think that I would have been underwhelmed by If Wishes Were Horses as a standalone eight-song album. It has three top-notch jangle-pop numbers, a couple low-key acoustic tracks with a nice bossa-nova sound, and a few tracks that are quite forgettable. Girdler's wispy vocals took some getting used to - it helps a lot to have cellist-vocalist Gemma Townlet take some of the leads and provide doubled vocals on the album's big "pop" moments, like the chorus of "Sea Horses", the album's strongest track. But too much of the original Wishes album is just pleasant background music without much substance.
Taken together, the pre- and post-Wishes singles make a more enjoyable full-length by themselves, with tracks like "Meet Johnny Rave" and "A Gentle Sigh" showing a more energetic and engaging side of the band. The band's very first single, "Clearer", shows that the band started out by simply aping some of the better moves of the Field Mice, but they developed quickly. "Popkiss", their second single sounds fully formed (and predates Wishes by several months) - it has a great, chiming guitar sound and sweeps in and out to augment a feather-light but pleasant melody. The later singles that round out the collection are just as good, making me think that Blueboy's second LP, Unisex, may be more my cup of tea. It's worth noting that Blueboy frontman Keith Girdler passed away from cancer a couple years ago (he was still quite young I think) - I can't help but think of that when I hear some of the more wistful and delicate songs on If Wishes Were Horses.
"Popkiss" by Blueboy