It’s a curiosity, I suppose, that I don’t celebrate my own birthday and only know the dates for about five others.
My two nieces, Mark Stein, Ricardo Fuller and Jay McAllister.
Aside from the two little Thorley’s the other two are the greatest footballers to play for a team in Red And White, and the latter? Well, he’s Beans On Toast and on December 1st each year, he gifts us a record to celebrate his birthday and whatever is in his head at that point.
Beans is gifted too, because somehow he nails it. Time and Time again.
Back in 2019 his “The Inevitable Train Wreck” told of some apocalyptic future (not quite the one we actually got), last year he put out a double that all sort of dealt with the pandemic, trying to make sense of a year that made no sense at all.
This year he brings us “Survival Of The Friendliest”, which can broadly be seen as Beans getting together with a couple of Mystery Jets (Blaine Harrison and Jack Flanagan) to make an album that is warm, welcoming and thought-provoking – often at the same time.
The opening track “A Beautiful Place” essentially works on the premise (one that I agree with as it goes) that the world we see on the news or (God forbid) social media is not the one that actually exists.
BoT though he always has a unique perspective on things. One that actually sets him apart from the Billy Bragg’s and Frank Turner’s, because no one quite writes songs like “Stones”, which imagines the things that a drop of water has seen, albeit that musically, this one is acoustic folk.
“Blow, Volcano Blow” is more jazz, like some kind of second line in New Orleans, there’s a comfort here: “wherever, we are headed it sure looks a lot like home” goes its hook. Also, as a student of words and how they are used, can we all take a moment to reflect on the fact this has the words “stellated icosahedron” in its lyrics.
If this album has a centre-piece then its “Not Everybody Thinks We’re Doomed”. We all know that if you’re not scared then the media isn’t doing its job, meet the counterbalance. It’s classic, modern beans, if you will.
Looking for the silver linings is his stock in trade, these days after all, and “Tree Of The Year” is typical of what he aims to do. “Humans” is another that finds a way to articulate the human condition, and the musical back drop is a lot more “full” than it used to be.
“The Commons”, discussing public footpaths is brilliant and incisively political at the same time. Lets take the land back from the landowners, or at least question the system that allows it to happen, but at its heart this is a record about people.
“Lets Get Married Again”, is drenched in fiddle and is such a piece of warm romanticism that even if you are in your mid 40s and bitter as you like, you can’t resist and the gospel tinged “Apples” changes the tempo, but its still about togetherness and camaraderie – and there’s an incredible spoken word passage from Dizraeli to top it off. “Ready For Action” comes in with a real electronic pulse, and if you feel – like me – that there’s another way beyond capitalism then this is a lyric that will resonate with you.
Perhaps the most ambitious work here is the last one. “Love Yourself” ties up the loose ends and feels like a journey all of its own. And as its topped off with a superb solo from Flanagan, you get a sense of the happiness that runs through the record as a golden thread.
I was going to write that Beans On Toast is the best chronicler of the human condition in modern music, but I am not sure that’s fair. He doesn’t so much deal with the condition as much as focus on what we could be, maybe what we should be, and “Survival Of The Friendliest” is both inspiring and glorious.