Beans on Toast may be a creature of habit, releasing, as he does, a new record each year on his birthday, December 1st. He’s been doing this for over 10 years now with his latest instalment, ‘The Inevitable Train Wreck’ being his 11th album. Over this time, Beans (or Jay McAllister as his mother probably calls him when she needs to give him a telling off) has recorded in a range of different studios with different producers, including Frank Turner and Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons.
Each of these forays has produced records with a different style to reflect the particular context but always retaining the recognisable Beans on Toast sound of the folk-punk poet with a rudimentary, if endearing, acoustic guitar sound – a gruff, ‘lived-in’ voice and a winning way with an easy, memorable melody.
Once again ‘The Inevitable Train Wreck’ doesn’t disappoint on any of these characteristics. Indeed, it may be his most consistently and amicably melodic set for a long while. This time round the hummable tunes and almost cheerful musical settings are crafted by two thirds of North London’s premier rockabilly family dynasty, Kitty & Lewis Durham. According to Beans himself, the songs are presented in this way almost as an antidote to the encroaching “apocalyptic outlook” of the lyrics.
Beans wrote the basic demos for the songs and took them into the studio for Kitty and Lewis to create the final musical setting, knowing that he had come to the right place to make the rock ‘n’ roll record he wanted. Kitty was largely responsible for creating the musical blueprint with guitar, bass, drums and harmonica for Lewis to then produce using the reclaimed and repurposed analogue kit in his own studio. Additional horns were added by the New York City Horns (from North Yorkshire not West Coast USA!).
What we get for the most part though is a jumping rock ‘n’ roll record that is clearly in thrall to the ’50s sounds of Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran. In fact, the overall sound may be closer in spirit to early UK rock ‘n’ roll (Marty Wilde or Billy Fury) and skiffle (The Vipers, Dickie Bishop or even Beryl Bryden). For the avoidance of doubt this is an unambiguous compliment!
Despite these retro touchpoints, though, this is still a resoundingly modern sounding record. There is no chance that it could be mistaken for some long lost 1957 artefact. It is not just the ‘sound’ of the record that roots it in 2019, lyrically it is right in the moment. One of the things that characterises Beans on Toast records is their acerbic, direct and uncompromising commentary on his experiences of modern life. Here we get a seemingly bleak but ultimately uplifting appraisal of the world in 2019.
His previous record ‘A Bird in the Hand’ may have focused inwards on his own personal circumstances and concerns, parenthood primarily among them but here Beans turns his gaze outward again, onto the turbulent political, social and ecological firmament of the UK today. It’s ‘protest’ music of a bold and humorous left-wing bent, with his Boris bashing, panning of the petro-chemical industry and scathing scorn for business / capitalism / the man all red in tooth and claw. What these critiques may lack in depth or nuance of argument they more than (and that is definitely MORE) make up for in heartfelt, righteous polemic that has enough power and emotion to be a rallying cry in its own right. Towards the close, the record accedes to a more personal viewpoint and, with it, a warmer and increasingly optimistic tone. Finally heralding life, despite all the potential disasters catalogued here, as “challenging, hilarious, resilient and beautiful”. Almost like the record itself.