For the unaware, Beans On Toast releases an album every year on his birthday (December 1st). Last year was his fortieth and he released two but that was an exception and this year’s offering is Survival Of The Friendliest. It can be difficult to categorise Beans (Jay, as his mum calls him) and that’s no bad thing. He can be political, he can be funny, he’s a clever songwriter and an engaging performer but, above all, he’s very human. This album is suffused with optimism but there are stings in the tail.
Take the first track, ‘A Beautiful Place’. “If you are good to the world it will be good to you” is the opening line and that’s a good positive sentiment but he follows it with “It’s so naïve it might even be true”. Is he trying to negate the point of the album before it’s even started? Not a bit of it. The album’s title comes from this song and it’s theme is “We might as well try to look out for one another”. Forget all the bad shit – the world is essentially a beautiful place but Beans is no tree hugger. The second song, ‘Stones’, begins “But it can be a sad place, I know” and now you have to start thinking.
Bean’s recent albums have tended to be solo acoustic affairs – the restrictions of the pandemic – and there is some of that style on Survival Of The Friendliest but he’s also recruited some friends in support: Blaine Harrison, who also produced the record, and Jack Flanagan were co-writers and there are Rosie Bristow of Holy Moly & The Crackers on accordion, Adriano Rossetti-Bonell on saxophone and drummer Graham Godfrey with wonderful backing vocals and strings from Sarah Telman. The sound is big when he wants it to be.
Survival Of The Friendliest is intended as a counter-blast to the bleakness of the last two years but things are not always that simple. Listen to ‘Tree Of The Year’ and see how you feel afterwards. I love ‘Humans’ for its positivity but there are lyrical barbs in there and ‘The Commons’ suddenly brings us back to politics and the right to roam campaign but with a jolly arrangement ending in a banjo solo. ‘Let’s Get Married Again’ needs no explanation – it really is that simple – and ‘Apples’ finds Beans praising nature again. ‘Ready For Action’ is almost a challenge to the apathetic and ‘Love Yourself’ returns to the manifesto laid out in the first track.
Beans has produced another star album. You can listen to and enjoy Survival Of The Friendliest on a superficial level but that isn’t what he wants; you do have to do some thinking.
Artist’s website: https://beansontoastmusic.com/
‘Humans’ – official video: