All thoroughly accessible (if sometimes a little hard going), but with an undercurrent of dubby claustrophobia.
Fine (actually, better than just "fine") though they were, they always flt to be the work of a man in a studio trying to find out what all the buttons did - this time out he's surrounded himself with a touring band.
The song subjects reside in the same areas, if lifted in mood a little, and the sound is a lot brighter than before. The claustrophobia is still present in some tracks, but not as oppressive as before.
The reason behind this change of tone may be the incumbent of the producers chair - Stephen Street has given the album a certain gloss, almost (at times) like a late period Britpop sheen.
The "Open with an Earworm" rule has been followed, with the song "America Is Your Boyfriend" (despite the initial sinister-sounding introduction).
There are some standout/pay attention moments in the songs, but all remain fairly flat - entertainingly flat - and there are points when a little songwriting quirk or production fiddle is called for to lift it up a notch.
A case in point here is the final tack titled - as an ending track should be - "The End". It rolls on competently and closes the album off in style, but it just feels like there should be more coming. It's a feeling that the album remains somehow unresolved.
Now in spite of that little run of negativity, this is a very good listenable album - it is un-demanding meaning it plays through without jarring or the desire to press skip. The aforementioned "America Is You Boyfriend" is a fine opener and the first single lifted "Stars Around My Heart" is the most obvious choice, and one of the strongest tracks here.
Other tracks have Smiths-esque guitars ("No Clue"), the big horn sound on "Stars Around My Heart" pops up elsewhere (not least in the soulful yearning, almost hymnal, "Rocket") , and there's a diversion into Pink Floyd territory for "Fox On The Rooftop" - which also contains a marvellous little guitar solo.
There's even an echo of TV's Pot Black theme running through "Walking Away From Love".
OK, for me this may not rank up there with Steve Mason's last couple of releases, but that should not detract from the greatness, increased confidence, swagger and triumph of this album.
Is it too soon to mention Album Of The Year?
Very probably, and as this was the first new album I bought this year, it may be a bit premature. But I'm sure it's going to be replayed a few times in the next 12 months
America is Your Boyfriend
Stars Around My Heart