The modern Rodgers and Hammerstein

Strongest album: Argybargy
Must to avoid: Difford & Tilbrook

A more accurate appraisal than the hyperbolic comparisons to Lennon/McCartney, Squeeze mainmen Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook are nevertheless two of England's finest ever songwriters; the rest of the band function mainly as backup musicians for their compositions, string of excellent keyboardists (cigar-chompin' eccentric Jools Holland and soulful journeyman Paul Carrack most notably) notwithstanding. Actually Difford/Tilbrook's style falls closer in the tradition of Ray Davies' precisely detailed kronikles of working-class English life with its odd (compared to other countries' proletariats, like American rednecks) genteelism and sense of limits (pretty universal). Add a dash of McCartney-esque sweetness (particularly in Tilbrook's vocals) and a dollop of synthesizer to keep things modern, and you've got the basic ingredients for the Squeeze sound. Lumped in with the New Wave because they released their debut in 1978, Squeeze are much more traditional than that - they are nothing more or less than accomplished pop craftsmen who would have, in another era, found their fortune penning showtunes in Tin Pan Alley. For some reason Squeeze have never found much commercial success - only two Top 40 hits in America, with a few more in the U.K. but hardly the storm of the charts. Which means that radio programmers and the (ever-shrinking) public who listen to Top 40 prefer shrieking women with big breasts singing sappy ballads and mindless retro-disco to subtle, intelligent post-Beatles mid-tempo pop miniatures.

The Squeeze home page is by far the best site for these songsmiths (actually, I think it's the only site out there!).

U.K. Squeeze (1978) **1/2

For this album only they called themselves the U.K. Squeeze because of an American band called Squeeze, who I assume subsequently dropped out of sight. Produced by John Cale (formerly of the Velvet Underground, from whom Squeeze derived their name. Specifically, final 1973 Velvet Underground album, Squeeze, otherwise known as "the one without any original members - including Lou Reed!"), this attempts to fit Squeeze into a vaguely punky, hip new wave mold that doesn't suit them. The music is simply played keyboard-heavy "hard rock" that sounds herky-jerky and cluttered. The rococco overarrangements and homo-erotic muscle pictures on the cover allow one to draw easy little dots from Queen II to this puppy; I hear plenty of Sparks here, too (if you've heard of those twerps - kind of a more annoying, hyperactive Queen/T. Rex unit). "Bang Bang," "The Model," and "Take Me I'm Yours," show some spunk and promise, however. The instrumental, "Wild Sewerage Tickles Brazil," is the low point, and nonsense like "Sex Master," is just plain silly.

Cool For Cats (1979) ****

Despite being a bit too heavy on the by-now-dated synthesizers, which start this album off on the wrong foot, this is a mainly excellent collection. Tilbrook trills sweetly, while Difford's occasional vocal spotlights are delivered in a non-musical, baritone monotone - he's not the lead singer for obvious reasons, but a nice change of pace. And together these two create some arrestingly odd harmonies with their polar-opposite high/low voices. This version presents Squeeze as a group of bird-watching boys-night-out pub rats, with a bit'o laddish sexism ("It's So Dirty" - "It's so dirty when it's in the right mood/Give some brandy and some chinese food") and odes to ol' demon alcohol ("Slightly Drunk"). Some interesting sound effects like the bells in "It's Not Cricket", though their sound hasn't quite achieved the depth and sophistication it would shortly later. The title track cruises through the disco floor as Difford litanies nonsensical couplets and pulls a lass. "Up The Junction", a cinematic narrative of a couple who meet, have a kid, and break up, may be Squeeze's finest three minutes. The band takes a backseat as everything makes room for Tilbrook's breathless telling of said tale, compression in the best sense.

Argybargy (1980) ****1/2

Easily Squeeze's best, slightly rivalled by the one that came before it (which relies too much on the synthesizers) and the one that came after it (which is too eclectically unfocused). As Little Bear said, this one's just right. Squeeze expand their musical reach without getting bogged down in genre throwaways, and display maturity without being boring about it. From the textbook hooks of the opener, "Pulling Mussels From A Shell", to Jools Hollands' boogie-woogie piano-jaunty "Other Side Of The Moon" (next-to last song) the high level quality never falters (never cared for the final song). Absolutely classic, inventive pop, I stopped short of giving Squeeze five stars because a)their pop lacks power, and b)they're not transcendent, which by that I mean that they stay within their limits both ideologically (working-class slice of life stories) and musically (no solos, no hints of anarchy, no moments of extreme passion). Squeeze are just well-adjusted, literate just-like-you'n'me chaps who have the typical problems with relationships and too much alcohol intake. Few songwriters outside of Ray Davies craft such wonderful material out of the ordinary. Nearly every tune will grab you by the hooks, get you hummin' its melody at unexpected moments of the day, and get you grinning with its clever, charming wit ("Her mother didn't like me/She thought I was on drugs/My mother didn't like her/She'd never peel the spuds"). Newcomers start here - if you don't like this album, you won't like the rest of what Squeeze have done.

East Side Story (1981) ****

Elvis Costello produced this album, save for "In Quintessence" which Dave Edmunds did. Jools Holland has been replaced by Paul Carrack, who himself left after this album and didn't return until 1993's Some Fantastic Place. This is where Squeeze stretch their range, exploring country ("Labelled With Love"), psychedelia ("F-Hole"), show tune balladry ("Vanity Fair"), slicked-up rockabilly ("Messed Around"). All of those are somewhat sub-par, and while this album is inconsistent compared to the previous album, there are enough highlights to make this a clear winner. Their first, and biggest, American hit was "Tempted", sung soulfully by Carrack; "Someone Else's Heart" takes Difford into Zombies-land; "Picadilly" herky-jerkily walks Tilbrook through the neighborhood's gossip; "Woman's World" sympathetically thumbnail sketches a housewife in response to their former sexism; and "Is That Love" speeds along irresistably. Enjoyable all the way through, and if a bit unfocused, it shows many new sides for Squeeze to dig their hooks in.

Sweets From A Stranger (1982) ***

While not exactly unworthwhile after the triple triumphs of Cool For Cats, Argybargy, and East Side Story, it's true that Squeeze have never produced another album half as good as any of those three. The band was in the throes of dissolution on this recording, and it's not surprising that they broke up shortly afterward - apparently these guys spent a lot of time drinking and dancing, which are the subjects of half the songs, and didn't particularly enjoy either. The modernization via slick dancebeats seems forced and takes the band too far afield from its traditional pop, and makes side one something that I almost never listen to. Side Two's much better, with the plodding but soulful "Black Coffee In Bed", the soaring "I've Returned", the typical first-person observation of genteel adultery of "His House, Her Home", and the neo-psychedelic balladry of "The Elephant Ride". It has its moments, but is a big letdown from their previous output.

Singles 45s & Under (1982) ****

A pretty good collection of Squeeze's best moments that inevitably overlooks some gems, like all greatest hits compilations of this type, but generally puts their strongest material in one place. There's not a lot to say about a best-of, except to repeat the sensible cliche that if you only buy one album by the band, buy this one.

Difford & Tilbrook (1984) **

After Squeeze broke up in 1982, its two songwriters released a duo album, which has basically been disowned by the duo and their fans. It's not quite godawful but it comes mighty close, with some decent songs smothered underneath Tony Visconti's mid-'80s overproduction. Which makes those decent songs practically worthless. When they're not aping Hall and Oates they're aping Phil Collins, and maybe if a couple of these tunes had turned into soft-rock synth smashes this record might have a reason to exist. "Love's Crashing Waves" and "You Can't Hurt The Girl" are what pass for highlights, I suppose, since a record does have to have a few songs that are better than the others. Why Difford and Tilbrook felt they needed to disband Squeeze for this remains a mystery. Wisely, they decided to call in their old bandmates for their next release.

Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (1985)

Squeeze's first album after reuniting in 1985. Jools Holland returns as the keyboardist.

Babylon and On (1987) ***

Not bad, just not interesting. Squeeze obtained their second American hit with the neo-funky horn-bouncy throwaway "Hourglass", which sadly is the catchiest thing on here. Squeeze display their unflaggable sense of craft and melody throughout this album, and the lyrics are typically incisive. Strong moments include "The Prisoner", "Footprints", and "Cigarette Of A Single Man", though another cigarette song, "Striking Matches" is one to many. Squeeze make their contribution to the rock'n'roll telephone number tradition, "853-5937" for no apparent purpose except, well, to make their contribution to the rock'n'roll tradition of telephone songs. Other than the insipid sitar play on "Some Americans", there aren't any real obvious gaffes. In fact, none of this is not well-crafted and tuneful, and individual moments provide some pleasure. Taken as a whole, though, it's rather boring.

Frank (1989) **1/2

Erronously hailed in some quarters as a return to form, Squeeze instead deliver another album of well-crafted tunes that fail to attract much interest. This neatly divides between standard Squeeze ("Love Circles", "If It's Love" - geez get some new subjects, guys) which lyrically sounds much blander than they ever have, as you can tell from the titles. The exception is the wonderful "She Doesn't Have To Shave", a touching and sensitive song about menstruation that compares to their best songs. The other half takes Squeeze on a detour through New Orleans, similar to the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies, though of course not nearly as interesting. Their take on gumbo-rock swings but unfortunately is pretty tuneless, which comes as a shock since despite their faults, Squeeze never failed to write excellent melodies. If they didn't have their past glories to coast on, I have no idea what use anyone would really have for this record except Adult Alternative Radio programmers. Jools Holland left after this album, to replaced first by session keyboardists and then Paul Carrack (again).

Round And A Bout (Live) (1990)

As the title says, a live album. A bit hard to find, as you might expect; I don't care much for live albums myself, so I haven't been searching very hard for a cheap copy.

Play (1991) **

Talk about a snooze. Squeeze seemed have permanently settled into a too-comfortable domesticated maturity, with little of the wit or danceability of their younger days. The good news is that the tunefulness is back, but melody alone won't save songs with no energy. The bad news is that there's no "She Doesn't Have To Shave", and the energy level's dropped to a mid-tempo toe-tapping slumber. Bad news: Jools Holland has departed (again). Good news: Steve Nieve of the Attractions helps out on keyboards. Bad news: Bruce Hornsby also helps out. Maybe if I'd been married 20 years and currently coping with my midlife crisis I might relate to Difford & Tilbrook's detailed narratives of middle-class marital squabbles and mutual adultery, but that's not me - and even if I met that demographic profile, I still doubt I'd have much use for this record (I'd probably be too busy trying to recapture my lost youth by blasting heavy metal).

Some Fantastic Place (1993) ***

The last album was so boring you'd figure it was forever snoozetime in East London, but this one's a definite improvement. In fact, it's the best they've done since Babylon and On, and I wish that were more of a compliment. Since Squeeze have permanently settled into a VH1 mode, I should probably be grateful that at least their adult-contemporary pop has brains and insight. More lineup changes: Paul Carrack is back (again) and brings some much-needed "Tempted"-soul to "Loving You Tonight"; bassist Keith Wilkinson chips in with the passable faux-reggae of "True Colors (The Storm)". While Difford and Tilbrook aren't up to their pre-'82 breakup standard, at least this album has a bit of energy that the previous LP sorely lacked. The first side is slightly stronger than the second, which veers into increasingly melancholy and less upbeat material. Other highlights include the country-ish "Third Rail" and the title track.

Ridiculous (1995)

Their most recent album.

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