Steve Mason – Meet the Humans (4 stars)

Steve Mason – Meet the Humans

Third solo effort shows gentler, more experimental side to SAY-nominated artist

Albums in 2013 didn’t get much more political than Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time. Steve Mason's second solo effort, the critically acclaimed, SAY-nominated record dealt with everything from the London riots to the death of David Kelly, and even featured Mason's first ever protest song, 'Fight Them Back'.

Third album Meet the Humans is a different beast. As Mason revealed earlier this year, it has no overarching concept and, he said, each song is its own entity. While it doesn't have the sock-it-to-'em sentiment of its predecessor, it's just as lyrically strong and musically impressive.

Produced by Elbow keyboardist Craig Potter, and Mason's first release since his move to Brighton, it's a much less tightly-wound offering than Monkey Minds. First track 'Water Bored' is a bridge between the two records – not only in the political play-on-words of its title but in its opening piano riff, which resembles that last album most accessible track, 'Oh My Lord'.

Yet Meet the Humans evolves into something that's both gentler and more experimental, while at the same time being very recognisably Mason. He's written powerfully about his struggles with depression in the past, and that experience resurfaces here: on 'Another Day', for instance, he pleads 'Don't send me back to the black / because this time I might never come back'.

But it's a much happier album too. 'Alive', 'To a Door' and first single 'Planet Sizes' are softly summery, the sun of the south coast creeping its way into Mason's songwriting perhaps. Potter's influence is clear too: 'Alright' and the heartache-filled 'Hardly Go Through' have the orchestral expansiveness of a trademark Elbow song, but without overshadowing Mason's distinctive voice or resonant lyrics.

And though the trip-hoppy final track 'Words in My Head' ends with a typically Mason note of self-doubt – 'Please don't ever listen to the words I say / … Please don't ever listen to the things that I say' – Meet the Humans is a confident record, and an infectiously good listen.

Out Fri 26 Feb, on Domino.

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