Steve Mason’s arms are thrown wide on his new solo album.
It’s a horrible cliché now but the phrase, ‘The last person to enter Parliament with honest intentions was Guido Fawkes’, is still ringing very true four centuries later. And whatever it costs him, Steve Mason is proudly here to make sure we don’t forget it.
The Scot is nothing himself if not a survivor but, having fronted one of the last century’s most loved cult groups in The Beta Band only to see it dissolve with debts in the millions, his life has become gradually more comfortable as fatherhood and middle age have arrived – perhaps, he now realises, too comfortable.
Brothers & Sisters arrives following an epiphany he had around the time its predecessor About The Light came out in 2019, a realisation that its well-crafted pop was subconsciously perhaps aimed at generating airplay.
The thought prompted a little soul searching; an outsider who had stumbled on partial fame by accident, now he concluded was not the moment in history to be worrying about whether you were on the radio accompanying root canal surgery.
Rather than join in the back and forth of the phony culture wars however, this new batch of songs is a conscious showcase for the seismic positive effects of migration, in the process building an enormous fuck you to those who seek to divide us.
Working with producer Tev’n, the collegiate approach to studio work saw the addition of collaborators in the shape of gospel singers Jayando Cole, Keshia Smith, Connie McCall and Adrian Blake, but the opening pair of songs owe much more sonically to the now distant past, Mars Man and I’m On My Way teleporting listeners in the direction of The Beta Band’s stoned introspection and ramshackle psychedelic pop respectively.
Steve Mason’s career since then has been criss-crossed with experimentation – he’s likened this work to 2013’s sometimes bonkers Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time – but throughout his authenticity has never been in question.
Here, amongst the words of the soulful Pieces Of Me, his grief and frustration could hardly be laid out any more openly: ‘Pieces of me inside/People I know who died/The love that I gave when I cried/For you.’
Listeners can compare this with the electrification that happens when Pakistani musician Javed Bashir is involved. On No More he adds a soaring, swooping background to a song of defiance that sets out the roadblock and stacks the Molotovs somewhere safe, whilst on Brixton Fish Fry the feeling is looser and more celebratory, a seamlessly made walking jam meant for any community that refuses to give into ignorance.
Not, you suspect, that Steve Mason much revels in it but it’s in this role as conductor of the common folk’s orchestra that the most uncomplicated music flows, from the soulful The People Say with its rolling piano to Travelling Hard’s brassy horn stabs, both theme tunes for the downtrodden.
Eventually though pressure gets to everyone: the titular closer finds the singer longing for escape in the darkness of a warehouse somewhere – ‘I want to meet a dealer in the corner/I want to hug a stranger in the lights’ – a need for hedonism which stems from having shoulders that are only as board as anyone else’s.
Brothers & Sisters is as much about connections and vibes as despair at the liberal delusion of just signing petitions and waving placards.
Fundamentally a record meant to unify, on it Steve Mason’s declaration is that things must work for everybody or they work for none.
In making it he’s also reminded us protest music needn’t be angry by definition – and that Parliament wouldn’t be good enough for him.