ALBUM REVIEW: Steve Mason & Dennis Bovell – Ghosts Outside

steve mason dennis bovell ghosts outside

Written for DIY

Last year’s Boys Outside saw ex-Beta Band/King Biscuit Time/Black Affair mastermind Steve Mason finally emerge from an extended wilderness period. Expunging much-publicised demons with the help of his dulcit Scottish tones, trip-hoppy beats, and proper pop hooks (produced in collaboration with hitmaking producer Richard X), it was a comeback album which was a definite emergence of sunshine through long-hanging storm clouds.

This remix album, with reggae veteran Dennis Bovell at the control desk, seems intent on bringing back the bad weather. Mason’s optimistic, upbeat songs are dragged to a sluggish, downbeat dub speed; any interesting instrumentation is stripped away in favour of traditional/boring (delete as applicable) dub mainstays like low-slung bass and laid-back drumbeats, and reverb up the yazoo.

Which is pretty much all it is, for the whole album. The same grooves repeating, with the occasional inclusion of some samples of Mason’s vocals so that it stands out (slightly) next to the rest of the genre’s output. Even the track names are repetitive, every one featuring the word “dub” ― in case there was any doubt what you were listening to.

That said, there are moments of genuine inspiration. Mason’s vocals are sometimes actually used to good effect, adding to the atmosphere as they fade in and out in a ghostly fashion; sometimes, they are completely wasted, too low in the mix to even pick out.

Similarly, the songs that really stand out borrow some of the trip-hop beats featured in the original songs from Boys Outside, which do their best to accelerate the tempo up from a limping gait to a slightly more lolloping pace.

The album compares unfavourably next to endeavours such as Jamie xx’s reworking of Gil Scott-Heron’s final album earlier this year or, perhaps more fittingly, Spacemonkeyz dub do-over of the first Gorillaz album, as well as Mad Professor’s work with Massive Attack ― all projects which used its source material to create something truly original.

Like dub reggae as a whole ― and perhaps also a lot of Mason’s musical output – Ghosts Outside is a very Marmite album. If you like the genre, for the most part, you’ll enjoy this album too; if you find it deathly dull, there really isn’t much here to change your mind.

5/10

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