His years with the Beta Band behind him, Steve Mason‘s remarkably impressive solo album, Boys Outside, was released in 2010 as he climbed out of years of depression. Many of the State team were converted after his small Electric Picnic performance 2009, his pop sensibilities mixed with some serious themes was the perfect present day sound for anyone raised on The Stone Roses and the baggy indie of the early ’90s. Now legendary reggae and dub producer Denis Bovell (who has worked with a variety of acts across all spectrums, including box-squeezer Sharon Shannon on her 1994 Out The Box album) has been given the task of translating the album into a dub version. Why he has been asked to do this is not quite apparent but for an album that had already received its own wide acclaim, it’s an unusual call.
For much of the album Bovell has stripped the innards out and put some classic reggae sounds in. Mason’s soft and distinctive vocals remain the same, if somewhat edited, leaving the soul of the originals intact though overshadowed by the repetition, reverb and the lack of synchronicity between them and Bovell’s dub.
Coming to this as a lover of the original album, the real pleasures are the moments where the original pops through the dub sounds. Title track ‘Boys Outside’ boringly renamed ‘Dub Outside’ is not helped by the stammering Hammond sounds and ‘boing’ effects: the original epic inner-city drama in the song lost completely. ‘The Letter’ (‘Letter Dub’) is mellowed down to a slow pulse but is hardly reinvented. This and a few other tracks come across as pleasingly smooth until Mason’s original is revisited and you realise that those versions were even more pleasing and smooth without the chopping and jump-cuts.
Diverting Bovell’s attention into an EP of perhaps four dub versions from this album may have been a more worthy cause, the idea not sustaining itself over 10 tracks and the variation between songs not enough. A flat record coming out of an odd idea and as unessential as the original is essential. To quote an NME journalist whose name escapes me describing to a mouthy intern why all AC/DC records sounded the same: “why fuck with magic?”.