It’s been a strange few years for Steve Mason, The Beta Band former creative (and destructive) force, and his well publicised battles with mental illness have been hard to ignore. In 2006, after the release of Black Gold under the pseudonym King Biscuit Time, Mason, suicidal and depressed, posted an ominous message on his MySpace page: ‘I’ve had enough. Over and out.’ Here, in Boys Outside, it seems as though Mason is finally confronting the demons that have followed him all his adult life. Tellingly, it is the first time he has ever released any work under his own name. Is he ready to open himself up to the world?
Production on the album comes from pop wizard Richard X, better known for his work with Sugababes and Liberty X, and while it initially seems like an unlikely combination, it certainly works. Less electronic than his previous efforts, Boys Outside has been described as a stripped back affair, and while it is more guitar driven, simpler, it has a big sound.
There’s openness from the very first track. -Understand My Heart’ is a juddering affair, with a dreamy chorus of honesty, a resigned weariness. The following numbers -Am I Just A Man’ and -The Letter’ deal with the issues that have followed Mason throughout his life. -Could it be that you don’t love me anymore?’ he asks, questioning his place in the world. If there is weakness in this album, and not simply emotional weakness, then it is in the unexceptional -Stretch Position’ – a pleasant little filler in the middle of everything else.
Haunting and beautifully crafted, -Boys Outside’ and single, -Lost&Found’ allow Mason to demonstrate his songmanship. Yes, the stories are wide open and touching – the aching ode to romantic failure -I Let Her In’ being a case in point – but they are also beautifully arranged. If this is Steve Mason finally gaining the confidence to just be Steve Mason then he can rest easy knowing his exposure was worth it.