Twenty-three years after his band bowed with its John Cale-produced macho-fey punk-pop-a-roll, the Paul McCartney of Squeeze (not the John Lennon--too comfy-cozy for such nonsense) at last goes solo. Turns out old pal and partner Chris Difford, less performer than proud papa, couldn't stomach the idea of hitting the road once more, leaving Tilbrook (who wrote the melodies, making him, actually, the Elton to Difford's Bernie) to go it alone, and so much the better. Decades of writing and performing together rendered Squeeze a moot point considered well past its expiration date by even the most apologetic diehards, who stopped buying somewhere after Babylon & On. (Though, as Tilbrook has said recently, 1998's Domino, released on his own Quixotic label, was the first Squeeze album to make a profit since Cool for Cats 20 years earlier.) Not that the songs were particularly lousy: Reprise's failure to push Play, the band's sole offering for the label in 1991, was especially criminal as it contains some of the twosome's finest offerings, among them "Satisfied," "Crying in My Sleep" and "The Truth," which hold their own with anything on Singles 45's & Under. But enough's enough: After 25 years, even the most blazing spark's bound to dim a little, and they've the sketchy discography of late to prove the worn-down point.
Besides, Tilbrook's first offering as solo artist, The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook, exists as if to satisfy the cravings of tuneful fetishists who still mourn the loss of one of the greatest pop bands of the post-punk era (after, oh, Elvis C.'s Attractions and XTC). It can't help but sound familiar and warm the nail in your heart: His voice is still coy and fetching, that of a man having fun with heartbreak; never has someone sounded so glad feeling so bad. And his sound is still that of the white boy digging through his vinyl stacks, blending soul and synth into the popcraft stew simmering lo these last two decades. Upon first listen, it sounds a tad unfamiliar (especially the harried and autobiographical "Interviewing Randy Newman," about the day he sucked up to Newman during a radio chitchat and got caught in the sycophant's booby trap). The second time through, it's familiar enough to call chum, the sort of disc you could have sworn you bought, like, 10 years ago only to discover it covered in dust and still feeling fresh.
At 44, Tilbrook the lyricist--and he's not a bad one at that, as down in the details as Difford once was--revels now in the role of middle-aged teen-ager, the guy who gets his kicks picking up hotties made of "custard cream" only to get kicked in the guts and nuts when the young thang promises to remember Glenn to her mum. "I'm looking older than I feel," he hollers over "Le Freak" and "Dancing Queen"; he probably still calls 'em "discotheques," too. More than anything, he knows how out of place and out of step he is in the modern world: "G.S.O.H. Essential" (so named for personals looking for a good sense of humor) is both his attempt at reconciling his place in the record-store racks ("I'm back again ready or not/I know I've slung some hooks around these parts before/Should I dance around a lot?/If I did that you might show me the door") and not giving a shit ("I won't give up at least not yet/So don't give up on me"). He's to the point ("She was married to someone else," he begins "Observatory," co-written with Aimee Mann, "I was lonely and lived by myself") and no less pointed than Squeeze was back when it was pulling mussels from the shell and sipping black coffee in bed. "I Won't See You" is as sad a song ever written about lovers parted ways; paired with "You See Me," written with Ron Sexsmith, it's doubly painful. That said, Tilbrook's live shows are said to be the stuff of pleasure and delight: He strolls the club, honors all unspoken requests for the Old Stuff and gives till it hurts. Sounds like the perfect show for Thanksgiving, after all; it isn't every day a giant plays the small rooms just for you.
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