"Masterful twin-headed pop group sprouts another torso bursting with life, dynamism and energy with a few things to say for itself and a tune to hum along with," says Glenn Tilbrook about the latest chapter in the musical life of Squeeze.
That's right, English pop journeymen Squeeze are back at it again with the marriage of snap and sparkle that have earned them fans spanning three decades. Delivering the same quirky, colorfully melodious manner and "one of the best Squeeze line-ups ever," Tilbrook and songwriting partner Chris Difford have come through the music (and life) history wringer and hit the ground running with DOMINO, their first studio album in three years. Divorces, dreams, drinks, betrayals and bewilderment all find their way into the mix, in songs sprinkled with characters as alive as Squeeze themselves. England has already welcomed the boys back with worthy praise. Mojo says "Their observation, humanity, humour and understanding make them as apt in the '90s as they were in the 70s."
Borne of the bristling English Punk Rock/New Wave/No Wave scene in the late 70s, Squeeze brought soulfulness and songwriting expertise to the music world on their UK SQUEEZE and COOL FOR CATS albums. Although the British embraced Squeeze's first two singles, "Up The Junction" and "Take Me I'm Yours," it wasn't until 1980, that the American spikeheads, skinny ties, long hairs, short hairs, and concertgoers were hypnotized by the catchy phrases and infectious hooks on the band's third album, ARGYBARGY. With Elvis Costello producing. Squeeze then recorded EAST SIDE STORY, home to "Tempted," the band's first U.S. Top 40 single.
Between 1977 and 1980, England's Mojo Magazine said Squeeze had "some of the most evocative and witty pop songs to emerge from Britain since The Kinks' heyday." This string of hits included "Pulling Mussels From A Shell," "Black Coffee In Bed," "Annie Get Your Gun" "If I Didn't Love You," "Another Nail For My Heart" and the aforementioned "Tempted." Some brazen journalists even took to comparing the duo to the legendary "Lennon and McCartney, but also to Gilbert and Sullivan and Leiber and Stoller" (Rolling Stone). Difford-Tilbrookjust took the praise in stride. Original songs and albums rolled out: SWEETS FROM A STRANGER (1982). DIFFORD & TILBROOK (1984). COSI FAN TUTTI FRUTTI (1985), BABYLON AND ON (1987).
Eventually, the burdens and glories of this kind of notoriety did take its toll on Squeeze; Glenn and Chris' personal and professional lives moved in a destructive direction. Difford and Tilbrook were now taking life's hits instead of putting them on record. Indeed, back in '84 that was all there was left; Squeeze having been scrapped both in lineup and name. Glenn and Chris persevered, their talents reaching through the difficulties. Pulse Magazine called 1989's FRANK and 1991's PLAY, "some of the band's strongest and most sophisticated work to date." Difford describes 1993's SOME FANTASTIC PLACE as "my first sober album," and the 1995 release RIDICULOUS "showed the group very much on form (South London Press).
Now, after 20 years of successes and shortcomings, breakups and reunions, Squeeze has emerged again, undimmed by trials and expectations, alike. The new CD, DOMINO, is set for release on the band's own Quixotic label, in a joint effort with Valley Entertainment for the U.S., Canada and Australia. It breaks down like this: Tilbrook has the main frontman vocal role and again shares songwriting credits with Difford; the latter sings lead on both "Bonkers" and "Short Break." In logical succession, Chris Holland follows his older brother Jools and "Tempted" singer Paul Carrack into the keyboard position, with Hilaire Penda (SalifKeita, Yousou N'Dour, Manu Dibango)on bass and Ashley Soan (Tom Robinson, Del Amitri, Faithless) behind the drums. "It's the grooviest lineup we've had in years," exclaims Difford
"DOMINO, musically, is a large shift for us," Tilbrook continues. "This lineup has more of a dance sensibility. Hilaire's playing brings a lightness and swing to the music." Many tracks that appear on the album were bom "just how it came down to tape, all sitting around playing, very organic and spontaneous."
But what really makes DOMINO a true Squeeze album are the quirky stories about vivid personalities, ladies and gents good for a pint and a laugh, a bit older now and hopefully wiser. Chris Difford has always had that phrase-turning voyeurism, but it was his own tangle with the drink that peppers a lot of DOMINO. "When I hear Glenn sing this lyrics to "Domino," it takes me back to my days in LA, living in an apartment by the beach, driving 90 mph the wrong way down the freeway drunk being chased by mad Mexicans. It was a really scary and lonely existence even though I was there making a record with all of my
friends. Furthers Glenn: "Here's a lyric about drinking too much and not realizing the effect it has on others. But it's all viewed with a sense of humor and an underlying seriousness. Musically, it's the first track we recorded and it set the tone for the whole record."
And of course, it's a pop tune.
Squeeze trademark lyrical insight abounds on DOMINO, particularly on songs like "Play On," described by Tilbrook as "a perfect picture of that time of yearning between adolescence and reality."
"Wants to be wanted/ but doesn't know why Reality curtains/black out a blue sky...
Her eyes are like cherries/that spin in his head
If he hits the jackpot/he's in the top ten."
"I dedicated this to my son, who has just formed a band," Chris explains.
"When he got into Nirvana and those artists who cultivated in him this desperate rock artist guy, it seemed to me the whole image hadn't changed very much from when I was young starting out in a band and emulating Jimi Hendrix and the other artists I loved. It's a song about a young boy's willingness to follow the pattern set down by the generation before."
And, of course, it's got that twisted beat. Listeners are given the chance to become involved not only with these new characters, but catch up with old favorites as well. In "A Moving Story" (which Chris called the second in a trilogy on these characters) Difford updates us on the couple from "Up The Junction," who finally: "...moved from Clapham/and didn't look back." London was gone now/her new life was strong...
She proudly reclaimed/ all of the warmth she'd been lacking"
And, of course, its melodies dodge and swerve.
And the tender songs about fatherhood that Chris wrote to honor his longtime songwriting partner and friend, "To Be A Dad" and "Without You Here."
It's all here... the infectious pop, the twisted beat, the dodge and swerve. And always, with heart. Yes, indeed. Squeeze have returned.