By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
When you tell people you're writing about Squeeze, you get one of three responses:
a) "Are they still together?"
b) "They used to be really good."
c) "They're a little too clever for their own good."
Yes kids, Squeeze did split up back in 1982, but the band reassembled three years later, a lifetime in pop, where people announce their retirement and return nine months down the line. They haven't called it quits once since then, though everyone but the band's superb songwriters, Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, has taken turns quitting, or getting sacked. And, yes, they used to be really good, exceptionally so.
Critics hailed Tilbrook and Difford as the new Lennon & McCartney, the next Gilbert & Sullivan, the less Jewish George & Ira, the funnier Allen & Rossi, almost unanimously until they broke up the band. Since then, opinions have varied wildly.
The conventional wisdom is that the band lost the plot and never again scaled the commercial heights of 1982, when Squeeze sold out Madison Square Garden. In fact Squeeze released their most successful album in '87, Babylon and On which contained two American Top-40 hits, something none of their hits on Singles 45 and Under came close to achieving.
And while the group hasn't made another album as brilliant all the way through as East Side Story--which was turned into a successful West End stage musical, Labeled With Love--they've made some immensely satisfying ones since then. Critics who can't forget the thrill of first hearing "Another Nail in My Heart" or "Pulling Mussels From a Shell" will periodically get behind a new Squeeze album, announcing it's "a splendid return to form," when it's actually just the band dumbing down for maximum commerciality, just like the Kinks.
Difford and Tilbrook will either try to oversimplify things and curb their cleverness or else try a more "mature" approach that purposely sounds like they're not having fun. Then they're not Squeeze. If you read Glen & Chris' self-critiquing interviews, they'll often dismiss their better instinctual albums and praise their worst "think-too-much" ones. How clever is that?
You won't read such an interview here, though not for a lack of trying. Without an American record label and still no sign of their latest CD, Domino, turning up at a mall near you anytime soon, trying to get an interview proved a frustrating exercise with more mundane plot twists than a typical Chris Difford lyric. At last glance, I'd left my number with the flatmate of some girl named Sukie, who was handling their press, and she promised to relay the message when Sukie got back from shopping.
But let's make up our own minds about Squeeze by examining the six of one and half-dozen other albums they've kindly bestowed upon us in their 25-year career.
UK Squeeze (1978): Unable to be just plain Squeeze because a Connecticut bar band named Tight Squeeze registered the name in five states and threatened to sue, our Brits added the humiliating "UK" prefix. Unfortunately, people mistake them for U.K., a pretentious prog supergroup featuring the usual prog rock suspects Bill Bruford and John Wetton. The John Cale production credit must've confused the matter ever further. These guys were once borderline punks, with young Tilbrook outreeding the Clash's Mick Jones, and Difford sounding like a slightly more Cockney Robyn Hitchcock while furnishing impenetrable song titles like "Wild Sewerage Tickles Brazil." This album would've been a complete wash if not for the two songs the band produces, "Bang Bang" and "Take Me I'm Yours." Nearly as attention-provoking is the album's rear sleeve, which depicts the band pulling mussels from their puny shells, beefy Gilson Lavis notwithstanding. The enormous-looking trouser trout in Tilbrook's Speedo no doubt caused David Coverdale many sleepless nights.
Cool for Cats (1979): The band's sophomore effort is full of sophomore high jinx, silly pop songs ("you better watch out here comes a tornado, you're gonna end up looking like a mashed potato") that are aggressively likable and impossible to shake off after one listen.
The full-tilt pathos of "Up the Junction" is like a Buster Keaton domestic comedy set to music, and it blatantly cops the intro of "Excitable Boy" for no apparent good reason. The title song gave the band its first U.K. hit, even with Difford's low dungeon groaning, which makes Ringo sound like Steve Winwood. What's more Beatlesque is Tilbrook's uncanny vocal resemblance to Paulie boy, a sweet tenor that could've fooled Linda on the McCartney house intercom. That this album came out at the same time as Wings' rotten Back to the Egg fooled fans into temporarily thinking Paul still had it in him to write gems like "Goodbye Girl" and "Touching Me, Touching You."
Soon after, bassist Harry Kakoulli is fired for reasons never completely explained. An official Squeeze Web site is still cagey about the band's first official dischargee, only claiming that Harry the K left "to pursue his disco muse." This LP also contains Squeeze's most blatant sexist/S&M anthem and a song called "The Knack." And they're not even the same song!
Argybargy (1980): The peak of Squeeze's joyous frivolity. "Pulling Mussels From a Shell" best demonstrates the band's strengths (Glenn sings it high, Chris sings it low--the trademark Squeeze sound that probably inspired thousands to use harmonizers on their vocals) and weakness (try singing along with the lyric sheet; once you stumble on a line--"Shrinking in the sea so cold, topless ladies look away"--you wonder if the band got its name for trying to cram as many words as possible into every line). Songs like "If I Didn't Love You" and "Separate Beds" cement the band's image as goofy, stay-at-home malcontents, forever dunking biscuits in tea and complaining about girlfriends who'd "never peel the spuds."