Steve Mason & Dennis Bovell: Ghosts Outside

[31 October 2011]

By Nianyi Hong

Remixed records rarely get the attention of listeners and for good reason—there is no original material, and the creation often doesn’t follow the artist’s original intentions. Ghosts Outside, the newly remixed album by Steve Mason (formerly of Beta Band) and Dennis Bovell (the veteran UK reggae producer), is no different, though it should be commended for dramatically changing the sound of Mason’s original record, even if the results are often more interesting than spectacular.

Last year’s Boys Outside rivaled Mason’s best work since he led the Beta Band in creating The Three EPs. But success has been fleeting for Mason every since that slice of off-kilter rock—Mason himself is often the biggest critic of his own work, once calling his Beta Band debut “fucking awful.” But Boys Outside recaptured much of the magic of Mason’s best work with Beta Band, successfully incorporating indie rock, folk, and electronic influences by creating a sparse and haunting record that gives the appropriate amount of distance to complement Mason’s gorgeous voice.

The one success of Ghosts Outside is that it manages to highlight Mason’s voice in a variety of previously unheard fashions, but overall, the music backing the voice is weaker. Reggae and dub are traditions that artists from the US and UK have often dabbled with, but few bands other than The Clash have had all that much success. But it is logical that an artist as experimental as Mason would try to create a reggae album; really, the only surprise is that Mason hasn’t tried out the style before. Given Mason’s previous solo stuff and work with Beta Band, his voice and music seem suited for a reggae or dub reworking, and this was likely the reasoning behind this collaboration. And for the first few tracks, it works. The stabs of brass horns, heavy bass, and guitar lines provide interesting contrast to Mason’s soulful voice. It’s a surprisingly haunting and eerily beautiful sound. But the lack of variety ends up hurting the sum of the tracks, as the record ends up meandering. Mason’s voice and Bovell’s production are not enough to carry a winding record through over 40 minutes of generally unvaried music.

One complaint that cannot be made about this remix is that it doesn’t cover any new ground; surprisingly for a remix, the end product is quite different from the original material. Yet, the originality is fleeting. In the end, one is left wondering if this record would have been better off as an EP consisting only certain choice cuts. But for those of us who love Beta Band’s The Three EPs and are left wanting more material from Mason, Dub Outside is certainly not terrible. It’s a worthwhile addition to his small discography, occupying an interesting niche and providing a fascinating approach to remixing.

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