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Steve Mason - A boy back on the inside track
on 10 May 2010
Has there ever been a better or more calculated "musical intervention" than when John Cusack playing "Rob" in the film "Hi Fidelity" put on "Dry the Rain" from the Beta Bands transcendent folk album "the Three EPs" and the punters in his record shop lapped it up (it was lucky that Cusack didn't play Monolith!). Indeed at one point during the early part of this century it looked like the Beta's mix of musical alchemy and sheer dottiness would conquer the earth. If they could have only translated the critical praise they received into record sales they would have been superstars. Alas it was not to be but its great to see in 2010 the very welcome return of Steve Mason the original architect of the Beta Band on this excellent new LP "Boys outside".
Mason has gone through hard times and in 2006 he effectively disappeared leaving a message on a website stating simply "Peace to you all....It's been amazing but I've had enough. Over and out". He had once described the Beta's eponymous debut as a "crock of" of a certain substance to his label EMI's massive annoyance , had suffered from rolling dark depression and had relationship problems both in and out of the band. A recent interview with Dave Simpson in the Guardian sets all this out in detail but most importantly shows that Mason is turning around his life.
Thus "Boys Outside" sees him return in a much happier state of mind with a lovely album of hymnal electronic soul and that wonderful warm voice which now bears some comparisons to the rich tones of Elbow's Guy Garvey, combined with a quiet despairing quality witch always underpinned the best Beta Band sounds. Highlights on this album include the brilliant "Lost and Found" which does echo the first part of Dry the Rain, the very bright pop opener "Understand my heart" with its glorious bouncing synths and harmonies, the mellow love song "Am I just a man" and the ghostly ballad "All come down". My personal favourite is the gentle and autobiographical song "The letter" with its touching lyrics and uplifting chorus. This album is far more structured and conventional than anything Mason did with the Beta's and some may miss the quirkiness and experimentation at all costs approach of his former band. This would be churlish since many ghosts and demons still haunt Mason and the last song "Hound On My Heel" acknowledges that there remains a precarious journey to travel. But let us not dwell on Mason's bad times since all in all "Boys Outside" is a fantastic return to form.