Sunday, June 8, 2014

Squeeze - Through The Hourglass

Squeeze emerged from slumber in early ‘85, with the ‘back to the future’ line-up from early ‘78 (less bassist Kakoulli) - Chris Difford (guitar/vocals), Glenn Tilbrook (vocals/guitar), Jools Holland (keyboards), Keith Wilkinson (bass), and Gilson Lavis (drums).  The quirkily titled album ‘Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti’ (UK#31/ US#61/ OZ#97) hit stores in August of ‘85, preceded by the reflectively toned single ‘Last Time Forever’ (UK#45), though subsequent singles - the exotic and soulful ‘Hits Of The Year’, ‘Heartbreaking World’, ‘King George Street’ - failed to attend the pop party.  Shortly after, the band added a second keyboardist in the guise of Andy Metcalfe (ex-Soft Boys and Robin Hitchcock & the Egyptians).

The now sextet, pushed the Squeeze brand further inside the U.S. Hot 100 than it had ever ventured before, via the effervescent single ‘Hourglass’ (UK#16/ US#15/ OZ#90 - which I purchased on vinyl 45), backed by a humorous and visually captivating promotional clip.  The 1987 source album, the cleverly titled ‘Babylon And On’ (UK#14/ US#36/ OZ#84) revealed a band that had lost none of its vim or vigour, aiming to reclaim some of the straight up pop-rock territory of their earlier work.  Subsequent singles did little business on the charts, the exception being ‘Trust Me To Open My Mouth’ (UK#72 - the video shot in a giant mouth, thankfully without indigestion).  Though it failed to chart, the single ’853-5937’, a tale of phone messages missed, was backed by a clever promotional video, featuring the band playing inside a giant telephone, whilst the band left their mark in the snow on the engaging ‘Footprints’.  Metcalfe left after the album release, with Squeeze reverting to their more familiar quintet configuration.

With a rejuvenated mojo, much was expected from Squeeze’s next album, 1989’s ‘Frank’ (UK#58/ US#113).  I’m not certain who Frank was or is, but his namesake failed to build on the momentum generated from his predecessor, with the late ‘89 singles ‘If It’s Love’ (as engaging as it is - the video reveals once more Squeeze’s playful sense of humour), and ‘Love Circles’ finding little love from the record buying public.  The album as a whole revealed a band more at ease with their musical identity, engaging in an understated sense.  Soon after, long standing Squeeze fans were issued a treat from the band’s old Deptford Fun City label, in the form of the live album ‘A Round And A Bout (Live 1974-1989)’ (UK#50), which featured the bonus 3 track EP ‘Packet Of Three’.

Squeeze were then dealt a double blow of misfortune, in the form of Jools Holland leaving once more to pursue a solo career and indulge in his passion for television presenting (firstly hosting the popular ‘Sunday Night’ on NBC, before eventually hosting his own long running show in Britain - ‘Late Night With Jools’ - which each week featured several big name, and emerging music acts).  Holland’s considerable genius at the keyboards took more than one replacement to compensate for, Squeeze recruiting the combined services of Matt Irving and Steve Nieve (ex-Elvis Costello & The Attractions) on keyboards, along with Tony Berg (keyboards/guitar), and Bruce Hornsby (accordion).  The second in the double whammy of blows came via long time label A&M’s decision to drop Squeeze from their playing roster part way through the band’s 1989 tour.

With dogged determination, the band marched on to the beat of their next album, ‘Play’ (UK#41), released in August of ‘91 on the Reprise label, and critically well received, though the associated singles, the lively ‘Sunday Street’, and the atmospheric ‘Satisfied’ fell short of the charts.  It’s worth noting that Spinal Tap actors Michael McKean and Christopher Guest, are guest contributors to the album.

Squeeze then welcomed the return of Paul Carrack to the ranks (in between solo and Mike & The Mechanics duties) for their tenth studio album, ‘Some Fantastic Place’ (UK#26/ US#182), along with new drummer Pete Thomas (ex of Elvis Costello’s Attractions) replacing Gilson Lavis who had left Squeeze to rejoin old cohort Jools Holland and his Big Band.  Re-signed to A&M, the band recaptured some commercial momentum, via the singles ‘Third Rail’ (UK#39), melodic power-pop at its finest, and ‘Some Fantastic Place’ (UK#73).

The lineup continued into ‘95, except for Kevin Wilkinson in place of Thomas, and released the album ‘Ridiculous’ (UK#50), late in the year.  The album yielded three hit singles - the hazy ‘This Summer’ (UK#32), the nostalgic flavoured ‘Electric Trains’ (UK#44), and the partly Difford spoken ‘Heaven Knows’ (UK#27) - proving that Squeeze still had some clout in commercial terms.  With Carrack moving back to his tenure with Mike & The Mechanics (see future post), Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook recruited an all new support structure for Squeeze, in the form of Chris Holland (brother of Jools - keyboards/vocals), Hilaire Penda (bass), and Ashley Soan (drums - formerly of Del Amitri, see separate posts), though it would take almost three years for their next album of new material to appear.  ‘Domino’, was released in November of ‘98 via the Quixotic label (the A&M label had folded), though any quixotic ambitions for the album soon evaporated via ‘Down In The Valley’, the associated single which failed to chart - reviews placed the album in the ‘workmanlike’ category at best.

The Polygram label released the album ‘Live At Royal Albert Hall’ in December of ‘99, with highlights being the slightly rock-a-billy reworking of ‘Annie Get Your Gun’, and acoustic version of ‘Tempted’ which elicited an eager sing-a-long from the audience. But by then Difford and Tilbrook, the core creative forces within Squeeze, had taken the decision to part ways and pursue projects independent of one another, in the process calling an end to Squeeze the band.

In 2004, VH1’s ‘Bands Reunited’ featured an episode on Squeeze - the aim being to reunite the original (or key) members of the band with the view of having them to perform a one off concert together.  They managed to elicit an affirmative for the offer from Gilson Lavis (drums), and Keith Wilkinson (bass), but were offered a tentative um and ah from Jools Holland who, from my memory of seeing the show, intimated that he might give it a go if Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook both committed (“good luck with that” was his message).  Apparently Difford and Tilbrook were incommunicado at the time.  The producers arranged for both to meet in an arranged place at an arranged time.  Difford rolled up but Tilbrook didn’t, and that was the sticking point - the duo simply weren’t ready to work together again at that point.

Some tentative tour dates began to happen from 2007, and a live album, ‘Five Live: On Tour In America’ was released that year.  But by 2010, the ice had fully melted, and the bridges were entirely mended, and the creative partnership of Difford and Tilbrook took to the stage once more as Squeeze.  I have a DVD copy of a concert they performed together in 2010, titled ‘Squeeze: Live From The Artist’s Den’.  The show was shot in Bryant Park, New York.  Preceding the show, Glenn Tilbrook stated that he and Difford felt that it was “the right time for us” to be performing together again.  The lads played some classic Squeeze, such as ‘Take Me I’m Yours’, ‘Annie Get Your Gun’, and ‘If It’s Love’, and they sounded as pop-proficient as ever.

In August of that year they released, via Love Records, the album ‘Spot The Difference’, a reworking of 14 Squeeze hits, proving they could still deliver the goods, almost as well as the originals.  Paul Carrack sounds as good as ever on ‘Tempted’, whilst Chris Difford’s re-rendering of the classic ‘Cool For Cats’ sees the ‘Sweeney doin’ 90’ with all the zest of the original.

Though a claim from Difford and Tilbrook that they’d written over 1000 songs together, and critics comparisons to the song writing prowess of Lennon & McCartney, might be in the mildly exaggerated column, the song writing axis of Difford and Tilbrook, and their band Squeeze, established a first-rate body of work over a 20 year pop odyssey.  One that warrants being explored by anyone in search of fine music.

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