[3 October 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Nearly 35 years ago, Squeeze released its first record. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook were promptly compared to another spectacularly talented songwriting team. Musicians dream about being called the next John Lennon or Paul McCartney, but it might not be the best thing for a group’s career. Though the band had a string of hits that are clearly the pinnacle of pop classics, Squeeze didn’t really achieve the kind of prosperity and recognition it deserved. Now, a little more than two years after Difford and Tilbrook reunited for a series of shows, Squeeze has released Spot the Difference.
The revitalized Squeeze line-up, which has been enjoying a very well-received tour this summer, includes drummer Simon Hanson and keyboardist Stephen Large—from Tilbrook’s recent project the Fluffers—and veteran Squeeze bassist John Bentley, in addition to Tilbrook and Difford. Spot the Difference is a 14-song collection of Squeeze’s best-known old hits, which have been re-recorded as faithfully as possible to the original versions. Hence the album’s title. This isn’t just some quick grab for cash, however. See, Difford and Tilbrook discovered that they don’t control any of the rights to the Squeeze back catalog. So they not only aren’t paid when those songs are used, they also have no authority over how, when and by whom the songs are used. It doesn’t seem fair that songwriters of that caliber have no say in their own songs, does it? They cannot reclaim the old recordings, but they do control the new versions. Pretty clever.
As are the new recordings. Favorites like “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)”, “Black Coffee in Bed” “Another Nail in My Heart”, “Hourglass” and “Tempted” sound brilliant because they’re magnificent compositions. They sound nearly indistinguishable from the earlier tracks because they were painstakingly recreated using a lot of the same equipment and similar recording techniques used on the originals. Former member Paul Carrack came in to supply his keyboard parts on “Loving You Tonight” and “Tempted”, and he repeated his vocals on “Tempted” as well.
Not everything is an exact replica, though. I won’t give them all away, but there are a few differences for listeners to spot. For instance, Tilbrook’s voice is stronger, and it just sounds more consistent throughout, but especially on tracks like “Black Coffee in Bed” and “Up the Junction”. In fact, it’s fair to say all the vocals are more powerful. (Although, “Hourglass”, really seems to me to be precisely as it was when I used to see the video on MTV, but perhaps that’s partly the echoes of the excitement it engendered.) Some of the arrangements, through identical, do sound somehow more muscular; specifically “Black Coffee in Bed”, “Pulling Mussels” and “Slap and Tickle” (which features the same Minimoog used in 1979). Tilbrook has mentioned that “Some Fantastic Place” is a bit more gospel than the original, but that was apparently how it was intended to be in the first place.
Tilbrook has also said he was inspired by seeing Brian Wilson and his band play meticulously accurate, but undeniably joyful versions of Beach Boys songs. Everything here sounds joyful and energetic, especially, in my opinion, “Another Nail in My Heart”. That passionate energy is what makes each song sound so fresh and exciting, even though it’s intentionally not new. Difford and Tilbrook are writing for the next Squeeze album, but for now fans can play Spot the Difference.