What more is there to say about Steve Mason, the former Beta Band frontman, who continues to ride high in the affections of a fiercely loyal and musically literate fanbase? After suffering deep depression a few years back, Mason decamped to Brighton, where he still resides, seemingly in a better place, and continues to make remarkably, albeit more upbeat, soulful music: his craft as a songwriter second to none.
Although not completely devoid of politics nowadays, following the angry and damning Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time, he turned out the relatively optimistic Meet the Humans during the year of Brexit, a call to himself and to others to engage, and try and be more, well, humane. About The Light also sees Mason move even further away from his previous modus operandi of working alone. While Meet the Humans was half solo, half collaborative, Mason decided with this album to, “Get my live band involved at every stage because I wanted to capture the energy that we produce when we play live shows. So this time the band and myself worked on a collection of songs over the course of last year,” with producer Stephen Street at the helm, he’s succeeded in fully realising the innate soulfulness of his music, with ten organic tracks that pay respect to both the turn of the 70s, the post-rave eras of baggy and Primal Scream, psychedelia, and new wave.
Beginning with the anti-establishment ‘America Is Your Boyfriend’, percussion, bass synth, trumpet and brass combine in elegantly unusual ways, hinting at the psychedelia-soul era of the late 60s/early 70s, but with that trademark psychedelic twinge, married to post acid baggy. “This is the lie, this is the spy,” he sings. Again, on ‘Rocket’ a late 60s/early 70s feel permeates, like The Rolling Stones on mild diazepam, and with just a hint of dub melodica, that only really gets out of gear halfway through, becoming a celebratory, love awakening song of sorts.
Mason has always written songs with a roosty-rock quality, and it’s also there on the title track, complete with subtle Primal Scream circa Screamadelica influences, licks akin to deceased Scream guitarist Robert ‘Throb’ Young, uplifting gospel-soul backing vocals and piano, all adding up to a positive state of mind: “Found a piece of my mind, lying by the side of the road, couldn’t stop for too long, because I felt that I was getting old“. There’s also elements of the guitar playing of Neil Young on the dark and downbeat ‘Fox on the Rooftop’, combining with woodwind to intriguing effect, and where Mason reverts back to fighting those demons of old, but more successfully nowadays.
The eclecticism of the live-feel music shines through on the modish ‘Stars Around My Heart’, that includes an early electronic drum sound, before stretching out via taut rhythms, and big brass, while ‘Spanish Brigade’ is perhaps the most straightforward, and pop-friendly song here, again a Primal Scream-esque inspired rocker, but which also harks back to 70s glam.
Mason has said that this album feels like the first legitimate record he has made. No doubt this is partly a result of the production and the live band feel, but it also feels like a result of years of turmoil, depression, isolation and anger have finally given way – albeit not completely – to a new found confidence, and joie de vivre. This is reflected in a remarkably fluid, yet eclectic, collection of soulful songs, his voice better than ever, his writing as good as ever. “Don’t fear the end,” he sings on final song, the raucous and rocking brass-infused of ‘The End’. There’s definitely nothing to fear here.