Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Squeeze




A group whose singles I liked but whose albums I never dipped into (until now) were Squeeze - beloved of critics and those who didn't want to embrace punk but were attracted by this very British, witty and musically competent group....

Essential Squeeze


The songwriting partnership of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook matched Elvis Costello for acerbity and combined it with a keen eye for the lives of ordinary characters and humdrum British urban existences. They wrote of Clapham Junction and Camber Sands with a winsome, often nostalgic affection and their songs were packed to the brim with kitchen sink drama atmosphere. Up The Junction is the most obvious example, along with the delightful Goodbye Girl, the evocative Pulling Mussels (From The Shell), the pounding punk-funk of Slap & Tickle and the melodic new wave groove of Another Nail In My HeartThere were also attractively upbeat, quirky numbers like Cool For Cats and Take Me I'm Yours and later country-influenced songs like Tempted and Labelled With LoveIs That Love and the frantic, acoustically riffy Annie Get Your Gun are both lively numbers that exemplify the often carefree vibe of the late seventies-early eighties. It certainly wasn't all gloomy post punk. The seventies-era Traffic-esque Black Coffee In Bed is another great one too, as is the cod-disco-rap of Hourglass


For a short period from 1978 to 1981, Squeeze had an unbroken run of hit singles that were seemingly always on the radio. Hearing any of them now takes me right back to those days. As a student, I frequented a pizza restaurant all the time, and one record they were always playing was Another Nail In My Heart. As soon as it comes on I am back there, eating my Jalapeño and spicy sausage diablo, (it came with a free pint of beer as it was so hot).


One problem I have always had with Squeeze was the fact that their songs suffer from a lo-fi, muffled production. It is not too big a deal, though, just listen to Up The Junction and let the lyrics and atmosphere override the so-so sound. Squeeze weren't punk, they were new wave-ish and were successful in that genre's era but in many ways they defied pigeonholing. Whatever, they wrote and delivered good songs and listening to them makes me extremely nostalgic. 


Squeeze (1978)


Squeeze's debut album was produced by The Velvet Underground's John Cale, apparently with a rod of iron, throwing out all the songs they had written and demanding that they wrote more. Founder member Chris Difford said that Cale "had us doing some awfully strange things". 


As it was 1978, it seemed as if they (or he) felt that a funky sound was necessary and, although it has quite a few Nick Lowe-Elvis Costello new wave vibes, it is by far the most edgy, raw and funky of their albums. They would never really sound like this again. The album hasn't survived well, critically, either, its reviews being petty much uniformly negative. 


Sex Master begins in breakneck fashion - a piano and punky drums-driven number that sounds like early Elvis Costello & The Attractions meeting the Damned. The unsubtle Bang Bang is also punky,  mixed with a bit of a new wave feel although the chorus is clumsily oikish. The bassy and brooding Strong In Reason is more new wave inclined, featuring some fine drums and a bit of an underlying dark atmosphere. Those first two tracks were the ones from the group that Cale had allowed them to keep, indicating that it was the punkier ones that the band had wanted to write more of.


The oddly-titled Wild Sewerage Tickles Brazil is an instrumental in the semi-dubby reggae-influenced style of the time, heavy on bass and staccato rhythms. Out Of Control is almost post punk in its brooding sound and cynical lyrics. It also has some vaguely dubby influences. It is one of the better tracks on the album, for me. 


The track everyone remembers is the group's first hit - the captivating, pulsating and enigmatic Take Me I'm Yours. It was a song that properly introduced the trademark intriguing lyrical content that Squeeze would become known - "Take me, I'm yours, because dreams are made of this - forever there'll be a Heaven in your kiss.." was a most typical Squeeze couple of lines. Add that to the stuff about being in the desert and it was all very cleverly wordsmithy. 


The Call is a heavy, chunky, industrial riff-powered number  that can't quite work out if it wants to be heavy rock or punk. The guitar at the end would suggest the former but the three chord underlying riff the latter. There is no doubt, though, that Model wants to be an Elvis Costello-esque new waver and Remember What is punk with a bit of a rock 'n' roll feel.


First Thing Wrong is almost classic early-mid seventies riffy rock boogie while Hesitation (Rool Britannia) mixes slow rock with that very late seventies dub-influenced groove. It features some scorching guitar too. Get Ready ends the album on a fast, punky note that has airs of Dr. Feelgood to it.


Cool For Cats (1979)


This was, for many, the first recognisable Squeeze album, where they changed producers and got their wry, witty new wave wings. 1979 was a fertile period for acerbic, observational lyricists - Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, Ian Dury, Madness, Joe Jackson - add Squeeze's Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook to that list. They mixed their lyrical inventiveness with a sixties pop meets new wave musical flair and became one of the period's most unique groups. It was not a surprise when they collaborated with Elvis Costello on his 1981 Trust album (From A Whisper To A Scream).


This was exemplified perfectly in the dryly rhyming lyrics and keyboard-drums new wave beat of Slap And TickleRevue is a melodic new wave throwback to a sort of sixties Kinks sound. Like The Kinks, Squeeze were very English. The group had a real ear for a hook and songs like this, and so many others on the album, are packed full of them - both lyrically and musically. The crashing drum bits actually sound like Queen, would you believe, and then the song morphs into the frantic, riffy rock'n' roll-influenced Touching Me Touching You.


It's Not Cricket is so Ian Dury it may as well be him (or Madness, for that matter) and the organ-driven It's So Dirty is just like Steve Nieve and The Attractions, with a bit of Joe Jackson's early albums thrown in. Both these songs are a bit derivative. The Knack, though, returns us to archetypal Squeeze on a dark, low-life, after dark narrative. Hop, Skip & Jump is another rock 'n' roll number, this time utilising keyboardist Jools Holland's whiny voice - the guy can play piano but he sure can't sing.


Now, that instantly recognisable drum beat and keyboard riff introduces the truly wonderful, cinematic and very sad kitchen sink tale of fumbling, incubators, babies and The Railway Arms that is Up The Junction. Squeeze's greatest song? It's right up there. "Within a year a walker..."


Hard To Find is a witty, pub rock-ish chugger while Slightly Drunk is punky new wave fun. The album finishes off with two great singles - the gloriously melodic, catchy deep keyboard-powered Goodbye Girl and the now iconic rumble of Cool For Cats with its Dury-esque clever lyrics and infectious drum-bass-piano interplay in the middle.


A good, original album.


Argybargy (1980)


Squeeze's third album built on the foundations of their quirkily appealing second offering. A good thing about this one is that it has been nicely remastered, something the first two haven't had the benefit of yet. It is a slicker, better-produced creation than its predecessors and remains the apex of this unique new wave group's output.


Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) is a typical Squeeze number to open with, with some similar slightly clumsy rhyming to Up The Junction. That is small point, though, as overall it is a fine, beguiling and catchy song, that mentions Camber Sands, I place I know well. It is followed by another great Squeeze single - the beautifully rumbling and tuneful Another Nail In My Heart where "here in the bar, the piano man's found another nail in my heart..." was a great line, delivered in the song's singalong chorus.


Separate Beds is an intriguing slower number, again detailing another of those doomed,  suburban seventies relationships. Misadventure is a throwback to the previous album's pacy new wave material while the slower I Think I'm Go Go is very Elvis Costello-esque. 


Farfisa Beat is a jaunty, suitably organ-powered piece of fluff. Here Comes The Feeling is a sombre, slightly post punk groaner of a track and Vicky Verky resists the Up The Junction theme, this time with a faster beat. It probably wasn't wise to recycle the same sort of lyrical theme, though. If I Didn't Love You is a chugging song about unsuccessful love featuring some nice guitar, Wrong Side Of The Moon, unfortunately, features Jools Holland's awful voice and There At The Top is a fine, pounding closer. Overall, however, I think I prefer the sheer unbridled energy of the previous album.

Related posts :-

Ian Dury
Madness
Elvis Costello

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