There was a time when a record sleeve was a cherished object and there must have been at least one occasion when we have been drawn to an album by its front cover. Ex-Beta Band frontman Steve Mason obviously isn’t a believer in this idea given that the CD edition consists of a plain black cover with the album and artist detail only identified by opening up the case. In this respect, this is definitely a subdued start to his solo career.
Yet from listening to the record, this is easily Mason’s most mainstream offering to date. This is partly explained by his choice of producer, Richard X; chiefly known for his work with pop princesses Rachel Stevens, Kelis and The Sugababes. For ‘Am I Just A Man’, Mason sounds in breezy, carefree form despite bemoaning a lost love. This, in a way, is part of the problem. Each song here (particularly ‘Lost And Found’) is slick and polished but it’s not a particularly moving record.
One might say Steve Mason the artist is a blank canvas like his sleeve design but that would be harsh. In fact, ‘The Letter’ bubbles with tension as Mason ominously notes “Something sad has happened here” but the core melody, bolstered by strings, is one of the key moments of the album. Then, to a subtle arrangement, we have ‘I Let Her In’, as Mason cannot shake off the memory of loved one. ‘Stress Position’ even follows the lonely romantic synth-pop route of Junior Boys.
Although this is clearly Mason’s songwriting at its most honest and emotional, he remains an enigmatic presence; sounding cool even though he is trying to convey deeper feelings. In comparison with another artist who has struggled to reveal his heart, it falls short of the standards of, say, Beck’s ‘Sea Change’ but ‘Boys Outside’ is still a quality record on its own terms.
The Beta Band, Junior Boys, Beck