After nearly ten albums, Jay McAlister and his eclectic friends are back with an album bound by the current climate, resulting in a collection of songs that are both angry and apathetic.
2016’s A Spanner in the Works saw Beans on Toast make a departure from the folk inspired backing that had typified the previous releases in favour of digitised production, but Cushty sees a return to the former. Interestingly, however, the vocal production remains closer to last year’s release, creating a spoken word/MC quality to the delivery of the album’s thoughtful lyrics.
As a collective this is the first release that has shown an obvious progression path between albums, the recent Down the Pub tour and song writing on the album that inspired it have clearly had an effect throughout the recording and production of Cushty. The follow on is interesting and gives you a clue to where the band are heading musically. There are definite nods towards pub rock and, at times, the fun, wit and mischief of Chas and Dave, expertly hidden in what is essentially a hard hitting political release. Although tinged with humour it is clear that the last twelve months have posed more questions than answers.
Opener, ‘Open Door Policy’, attempts to answer a few of these questions and, over six minutes, suggests solutions to the problems of modern politics. In the past it is in these songs that a Beans on Toast release really opens up and grabs the audience, however in this case, maybe due to the shear length of the starter, this is a release that struggles to hold the ear. The almost spoken word quality of A Spanner in the Works created an open lyrical exchange around the personal topics of life, love and family. It was a device that took the album to another level. However, on an album with a focus on more worldly concerns, this gentle spoken quality needs a bit more anger. At times, Cushty is crying out for more of Jay’s cutting sarcasm and damning tone.
However, this far from a meritless release, there are some tender heart-warming moments. In particular ‘Lily and Jamie’ is a beautifully written tale of modern love, with an under layer of solidarity for the public sector. Lyrically this is a song that poses questions to the listener and exposes some unintentional prejudices. There is something incredibly touching about the (at times) mundane references to everyday life – vegetable lasagne anyone?
Lyrically this is a release much like its eight predecessors but, at points, it feels a bit like we are listening to an artist in turmoil. ‘The Ignorant Englishman’, in particular, with its tale of the stupidity of leaving the European Union, finds an always vehement McAlister taking his impassioned expression to another level. It’s a perfectly crafted protest song, complete with self-depreciating lyrics, backed up with sounds of a German market. It’s moments like this that ensure Cushty can be an utterly wonderful listen.
However it does feel like there is too much to say, and the points don’t always stick. Lengthy tracks often feel a bit too close to rambling – there’s rarely a moment where it feels like anything other than ‘opinion’. Which is a shame because within this album there are moments which match some of Beans’ best work.
Cushty is out now.