Pandemonium Ensues is essentially Glenn Tilbrook’s third solo album, though it is credited to “Glenn Tilbrook and the Fluffers”. It’s easily his best “solo” work yet, and that is clearly due to the collaborative feeling evident on most tracks, which was missing on 2001’s The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook and 2004’s Transatlantic Ping Pong. Whether this group vibe is a result of Tilbrook’s recent revival of Squeeze with Chris Difford or simply because of the presence of the Fluffers and other guest contributors, it infuses Tilbrook’s songs with an infectious, uplifting energy that propels the entire album.
The Fluffers are keyboardist Stephen Large and drummer Simon Hanson, who are two members from the latest incarnation of Squeeze, and bassist Lucy Shaw. Their influence is immediately apparent on the opening track, “Best of Times”, a sort of zydeco-folk number with Large on accordion accompaniment to Tilbrook’s lyrics about lasting love. It sounds like a band, and not just a gathering of players, but a group of musicians sharing the same mission.
This shared mission continues on “Through the Net”. There’s a Jeff Lynne-meets-Jellyfish quality in the bouncing beat and keyboard flourishes, not to mention the waves of layered backing vocals. But the melody is pure Tilbrook magic, and his lyrics are the perfect mix of straight storytelling and syllables for sound only. “Through the Net” is quite catchy, if you’ll pardon the pun, and probably the most memorable, possibly the best, song here.
The remainder of the record — though pleasant and energetic — can be a little uneven, such as when Shaw takes lead vocals on the third track, “Product”. She’s a fine singer, but the song, with its cinematic strings and noir affectations, seems out of place. It doesn’t fit well amongst Tilbrook’s poppier pieces. “Slaughtered Artist” roars back and gives Tilbrook a chance to unleash his guitar chops, but it’s oddly placed as well. “Still” may be the closest that this album gets to that classic Squeeze sound, while “Relentless Pursuit” is built on Beach Boy harmonies and a harmonium to fabulous effect. Both of these are fantastic examples of the command of melody and charming voice for which Tilbrook is known, and they also show his progression as a lyricist.
But that, too, is inconsistent. “Interest and Love” is a duet between Tilbrook and chanteuse Vanessa Paradis, and although it’s a sweet melody and their voices blend beautifully, the song misses the mark on the lyrical front: “All bow down to the king of fuck / All he rules on a whim / He thought he was pretty smart / but sadly is just dim”. “She Makes Me” also falters lyrically, but is just saved by the momentum of the keyboard hook and the sing-along, “Drive My Car”-style backing vocals.
“Black Sheep” is a jaunty little ditty with Bacharach overtones, while “Beachland Ballroom” is another guitar-heavy rocker that lets loose Tilbrook’s inner axeman. However, neither is all that notable. Maybe the most engaging track is “Little Ships”, a heartfelt farewell to loved ones that showcases Tilbrook’s enduring, endearingly melodious voice.
The album ends with the strange, spacey instrumental “Too Close to the Sun”, which features Johnny Depp intoning the title over and over again as the music becomes increasingly frenetic. It’s certainly interesting, sounding rather like the score to an episode of obscure anime or some sort of retro-futuristic car commercial. It’s definitely a highlight, but again, it doesn’t seem to fit. Perhaps that’s the point, to show Glenn Tilbrook’s divergent tastes alongside his dulcet talents as Pandemonium Ensues.