Album Review: Steve Mason – Meet the Humans

By on Tuesday, 23rd February 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Steve Mason Meet the Humans album coverAround this time 3 years ago, ex-Beta Band founder Steve Mason released the political-in-concept double album ‘Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time’. In it, he chose to explore his own demons – namely personal struggles with depression and being lonely – while also taking public events, such as the 2011 London riots, and giving them a place in popular song. I imagine that in the ensuing years that passed, Mason, intellectually spent from a songwriting standpoint, was eager to move on to some lighter fare for his third solo album. While running your hand along the smooth surface of early taster single ‘Planet Sizes’, one might think this seemed to be the case, closer inspection revealed Mason had simply changed direction but not in might. (To read more on ‘Planet Sizes’ on its own, you can read my review that posted in mid-January, in which I extol its virtues.)

Recorded at Blueprint Studios in Salford with his touring band mates and Elbow‘s Craig Potter as producer, ‘Meet the Humans’ is Mason’s latest, greatest opus, and even with the conscious decision to go more simple this go around, the songs presented here are definitive proof he still maintains his unique, astute perception of our world. Mason has described ‘Meet the Humans’ as “an album where each song is a separate entity, where there is no great narrative running through it.” For most other artists, the incongruity of a LP’s worth of seemingly unrelated tracks would be a massive problem. However, as you listen to the album from beginning to end, you are treated to the interesting ways Mason crafts his songs, whether they be of folk or rock origin, leaning in a pop or more sweeping anthem direction.

Marked by Mason’s sweetly delivered vocals almost at a whisper, gently shaken tambourine, restrained strings and a powerful piano backing, ‘Ran Away’ is a clear album standout. As the title suggests, it’s a song about love that got away, but Mason’s voice is not full of deep-seated anger or regret or but an acceptance that things happen for a reason: “I know you ran away / I know you ran away / but what I find, is I don’t mind, anyway.” The mellow ‘Another Day’ is another tune of acceptance, but of the opposite variety. He tries to beg for forgiveness for his own emotional weakness: “I found it hard to say my piece, the words they slipped away / a dream to have you by my side, but I’m a fool who walks away.”

Mason takes two more stabs at explaining himself this later on in the tracklisting on ‘Like Water’ and last track ‘Words in My Head’. His tack is humourous, as he describes his failings “like rock fall, raining on your head / they may hurt you, but they’ll never make you dead”, but he also looks for understanding for his depression (“it’s that simple, tale you never hear / about a boy, who fights against the fear”). The dance beats that ‘Words in My Head’ is laden down with seem out of place. But the message of unconditional love in spite of the frailty of mental illness is appreciated.

Another tender treatment is used for ‘To a Door’, as the fragility of human life is broached. We’re given a host of different images to think about – the seashore where we spent fun and lazy days, all of our loved ones, the idea of choosing one favourite tree before leaving – as Mason asks us what we would do in the moment as our life here ends. If you haven’t contemplated the end, you should now, thanks to this inspirational guide. Less successful is ‘Through My Window’, in which he contemplates through a largely nebulous melody the existence of a benevolent, loving power he wishes to harness and keep forever. Is it about God? Perhaps.

You will notice Mason begins this new album with ‘Water Bored’, an incredibly catchy track that touches on the futility of opposing The Man. While it seems like an obvious bridge from ‘Monkey Minds…’, it’s ultimately a positive track in which he encourages, “‘cos you can break it, don’t think the pain is forever…won’t you hold my hand today, and show that we won’t take it?” That’s what ‘Meet the Humans’ is, writ large. The human condition is not simple or clean. Along with moments of happiness, it’s riddled with painful scars. No-one said ever life was easy. But we can get through it – with love, caring and understanding – if we stick together.

8/10

Steve Mason’s latest and third solo album to date, ‘Meet the Humans’, is out this Friday, the 26th of February, on Double Six Records. Mason has several in-stores lined up in the coming days, starting on Friday, as well as a UK tour for April; for all the details, visit his official Web site. For more on Steve Mason on TGTF, go here.

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