Steve Mason - Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time
Politically-charged and slickly-produced album of conviction from ex-Beta Band lynchpin
There’s plenty to be written elsewhere about the sad lack of socially-conscious mainstream music being made, whether that’s because most artists just aren’t interested or have an understandable fear of offending someone who might buy their record or aid their career. Fortunately Steve Mason has revealed himself (it was rarely in doubt) as the kind of maverick who doesn’t pander, and after early listens Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time (the Buddhist description of someone who’s easily distracted, apparently) reveals itself as his masterpiece. Yes, even back to the days when he so memorably helped apply a Bill Drummond-esque, truly art-rock sensibility to indie rock with The Beta Band.
The first words sung by Mason on track two, the crystalline, hypnotic dub of ‘Lie Awake’, are: ‘at 15 years old I had to know / what makes you fail / what makes you grow,’ and right there a sense of reckoning is set. There are 20 tracks on this album, a third of them bridging vignettes and speech samples, adding to the sense it’s an extended, holistic suite of music. The doubt-filled, homespun ballad ‘A Lot of Love’ is an unexpected rallying call, with Mason pondering where he can ‘pick a spot to leave me flag’, yet the tension escalates fast, from the big budget-sounding gospel of ‘Lonely’ to ‘Safe Population’s moody funk and the meaty, overdriven shoegaze of ‘From Hate We Hope’.
It’s an album of personal depth from Mason’s point of view, and real political breadth, later stand-outs including MC Mysto’s guest polemic rap on ‘More Money, More Fire’ and the hard-nosed anti-authoritarianism of ‘Fight Them Back’ (‘you get up and fight them back / a fist, a boot, a baseball bat’). Commercial success may elude him, but Mason’s standing as an artist of insight and courage has never been higher.