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In Praise of Squeeze

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Last week saw the release of a new single by Squeeze. It’s called ‘Innocence In Paradise’, it’s taken from their forthcoming album The Knowledge, and it’s magnificent:

How many bands do you know that after 43 years, are still creating music as vibrant and enjoyable as this? ‘Innocence In Paradise’ is, to these ears, the finest song that Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook have written since ‘Some Fantastic Place’ back in 1993.

Squeeze has been going since 1974, on and off (more on that later). For a band who have something of a ‘cosy’ image, their backstory is quite dark, with drugs, alcohol, and a long-standing resentment between the two principles all contributing to their saga over the years. They’ve never lost sight of the value of a good tune though, and even on their weaker albums (e.g. 1982’s Sweets From A Stranger, 1989’s Frank), there are some excellent tracks.

One thing rarely spoken of though is Glenn Tilbrook’s mastery of the guitar. Much like Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, Tilbrook’s playing is both phenomenally good, and oddly, unremarked upon. Get this:

Squeeze’s debut album was released in 1978, supposedly produced by John Cale, but the sessions were difficult, and the album suffered. It was with the release of the following year’s Cool For Cats that they hit their stride, with two huge hit singles in the title track, and ‘Up The Junction’.  It’s the latter song that encapsulates everything that’s great about Difford and Tilbrook’s music. It’s truly one of the saddest songs ever written, but the jaunty melody, particularly the organ hook, belies the lyrical content. Also, it’s got no chorus. Had you noticed that?

The band continued their upward trajectory through 1980’s Argy Bargy, ’81’s East Side Story (generally considered their masterpiece, and the first album without Jools Holland), but by the following year, they were sick of the treadmill and following the tepid reception afforded that year’s Sweets From A Stranger album, called it a day.  Glenn and Chris released an album together, imaginitively titled Difford & Tilbrook, but by 1985, had put the band back together (with a returning Jools Holland). That year’s Cosi FanTutti Frutti sounds utterly of it’s time, with an overbearing 80s production smothering some exquisite songs.  1987’s Babylon And On housed the hit ‘Hourglass’, but following 1989’s Frank, they were dropped by their long-time label A&M.  Oh, and Jools left again, never to return.

Squeeze signed to Reprise Records for their next album, 1991’s Play, which, despite top-notch songs, left the charts largely unbothered. Two years later, Some Fantastic Place, their first without long-time drummer Gilson Lavis, was rapturously received, an album so enamoured by Elton John that he apparently purchased every copy in his local record store to send to friends. This was followed up by 1995’s Ridiculous, the marketing campaign behind which attempted to brand Squeeze as the ‘kindly uncles of Britpop’, but merely succeeded in making them seem old. Then A&M dropped them again.

Chris Difford and Gleen Tilbrook,

1998’s Domino was issued on Squeeze’s own label Quixotic Records, and featured Jools’ younger brother Chris Holland on keys. The songwriting wasn’t as strong on this album, and it appeared that Squeeze had finally run out of juice. Difford left the band the following year, leaving Tilbrook (as the sole original member) to complete the agreed tour dates.

Glenn and Chris didn’t speak for years after that, but in 2004, with a new book about the band, ‘Squeeze: Song-By-Song’, wherein both Tilbrook and Difford were interviewed, there appeared to be a thaw in relations between the pair. They performed a number of acoustic sets in support of the launch, and thus began the process of repairing their friendship and working relationship.  By 2007, they’d relaunched Squeeze as an active outfit, albeit without any new recordings.  We’d have to wait until 2015 for a new Squeeze LP, and there was a genuine sense of excitement about the release of Cradle To The Grave.  To these ears, the album was somewhat disappointing, but that’s the eternal problem for legendary bands – they must compete with their own back catalogue

October 13th this year will bring us the band’s fifteenth album, The Knowledge. If the standard of songwriting is equal to that on the lead single, it’s set to be the band’s best in years.

To celebrate the upcoming album, and the fact that the band will play two shows here in Dublin on October 2nd and 3rd, we’ve put together a playlist of some of RockYouLike’s favourite Squeeze songs. We’ve concentrated largely on album tracks – not because we’re snobs, but because there is so much more to the band than their hit singles. We’ve also placed a few songs to highlight just how incredible a guitarist Glenn Tilbrook is. To this end, listen out for his work on ‘In Quintessence’, ‘Electric Trains’, ‘Some Fantastic Place’, ‘Walk Away’, and. of course, the solo of ‘Black Coffee In Bed’

And don’t forget to buy the new album next month!