[31 March 2014]
There’s something rather idiosyncratic about Glenn Tilbrook’s latest solo album, Happy Ending. There are four reasons why you could very quickly put the sometime Squeeze co-main man in the dock for idiosyncratic tendencies. Number 1: it’s all acoustic and no electric guitars. Number 2: Tilbrook’s kids sing backing vocals on a couple of tracks. Number 3: there is no Chris Difford (the other Squeeze main man) presence, either playing or more to the point through his songwriting (in Squeeze’s three decades-plus as performers, Tilbrook writes the music and Difford the lyrics). Number 4: seven out of the 12 tracks have first names in their song titles.
Suffused with Tilbrook’s quirks the album may be, but that’s actually a good thing. Glenn Tilbrook has consistently shown the priceless ability throughout his career to pen a melody, and Happy Ending houses enough of those melodies to make this LP a pretty pleasurable listen. The stand-outs shine splendidly. None more so than “Everybody Sometimes”, a relentlessly upbeat song that combines a wry look at business intentions and practices with a gorgeous chorus—“There’ll always be another day,” and who could argue with that?—backed up by an on-the-money shuffle beat, ukulele, bongo drums and some beautiful soothing noises that sound like they have been coaxed out of a glockenspiel. The way the song wanders up major chords then slides down minor ones is a master class of pure pop tune-smithing. Plus, the Tilbrook soaring tenor, always a prime selling-point of the best Squeeze songs, is in fine form and losing none of its lustre.
Happy Ending offers some other pop pleasures, like “Hello There”, a track with ‘60s harmonies, George Harrison-like slide guitar embellishments, and a feel that (the Tilbrook idiosyncracy again) evokes a mid-‘70s Flaming Groovies power-pop vibe. If there is a criticism of the album as a whole, it is somewhat stop-start both in terms of its quality and pace. Hence, “Everybody Sometimes”, a song that sounds like a ready-made introduction to Spring, is followed by the disjointed “Dennis”, which fails to find a groove, succeeds for a fleeting moment, and then manages to lose it—the track that lost its mojo.
Or take the second track, “Persephone”, another one of the album’s minor triumphs. Its insistently chugging Easybeats’ ““Friday on my Mind” rhythm is complemented by a luscious string arrangement and some delicious Indian raga touches. And so the scene is set, the music is in your head. Tilbrook seems ready to reel off one tune after another in the manner, if not of the standard, of Squeeze’s “East Side Story” (their masterpiece), and then he takes one quirky step too far in the Bollywood burlesque “Mud Island”.
The LP builds to a strong finish. Final track “Ice Cream” aside, which is an empty knees-up. “Kev and Dave”, “Fruitcake” (a paen to his slightly “bonkers” loved one), and “Peter” are an excellently tuneful run of three. Mention should also be made of the earlier “Rupert” which, as it’s about phone-hacking, is presumably meant to deal with one R. Murdoch. There would doubtless many who wish Tilbrook would take the opportunity to lay into News International and the journalistic ethos it represents. But if he doesn’t do that, his more objective narrative still performs a public service of sorts with a hint of lyrical sardonicism, as he sings “Rupert was humbled and terribly sorry.”
Full credit to Glenn Tilbrook. Without the comfort blanket of Chris Difford’s lyrics to wrap himself in, he has written all the songs here (bar one co-write) by himself. The instrumentation and arrangements are first class. His voice never dips, and showcases its great quality when it soars. Above all, it’s an album which leaves you in a good mood, something which thousands of LPs have signally failed to do, and for that we should thank him.