Review of Play

CD Review, November 1991. By David Okamoto.

Squeeze: Play
Reprise 26644-2
(DDD) 1991 (91)
Disc Time: 52:32
8 (performance)/8 (sound quality)

Throughout their careers, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze have penned luscious pop songs that are so unabashedly tuneful it's been easy to overlook what they had to say in favor of how gracefully they said it.

So to the casual fan, the British quartet's eighth studio album, Play, may seem like a brooding letdown. Difford and Tilbrook's sweet, forceful harmonies are in abundance, but they're wedded to dense, sometimes busy arrangements anchored by gurgling horns, wailing electric guitars, and swelling keyboards. Some of the new songs echo the group's previous hits: "Crying In My Sleep" is a spunky rewrite of "Hourglass," while "Cupid's Toy" retraces the Philly soul imprints of "Black Coffee In Bed". Overall, Play boasts more of a sneaky appeal than such instantly likable efforts as Argybargy and Babylon And On, resulting in a delightful disc designed to be absorbed, not just heard.

Colorful shades of country, folk, blues, and soul music abound, as do distinctive contributions from such guest musicians as Bruce Hornsby, Michael Penn, ex-Elvis Costello keyboardist Steve Nieve, and two members of Spinal Tap. The overriding theme is love that has soured and curdled. But instead of vindictive accusations and trite philosophies, Squeeze opts for intriguing narratives that examine post-romantic fallout - anger, loneliness, and despair - with sharp imagery ("Her nails were long and sharp/But she didn't play the harp"), keen observations ("He has a crease in his jeans/A frown on his face/The scent of a man who thinks he has taste"), and clever wordplay ("I had the rug pulled from under my feet/But I didn't feel a thing").

During the course of this disc, we are introduced to jilted lovers who spend their lonely nights cruising bars ("Cupid's Toy"), betting at the track ("Gone To The Dogs"), and reveling in their complacency ("The Day I Get Home"). Splintering couples are the most abundant characters, from the warring spouses of "Wicked and Cruel" and "House Of Love" to the intimate strangers of "Satisfied" and the bored lovers of the chilling "Letting Go" ("We cuddle up and say 'Goodnight'/It's all the lover there is tonight").

Difford and Tilbrook flaunt their emotional battle scars without lapsing into self-pity, but they haven't given up on true love. Play ends with a stirring ballad called "There Is A Voice," which suggests that hope is merely sidetracked, not lost. It is a fitting statement from an on-again, off-again band that continues to rally in the face of commercial indifference to consistently turn out poignant, powerful pop music.

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