Glenn Tilbrook: The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook

Glenn Tilbrook
The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook

When you first set this one spinning, you realize how good it is to hear that most distinctive voice again. It’s the unmistakable voice of Squeeze in his first non-Squeeze effort, a funky solo stint sans Chris Difford that certainly won’t be his last, which is why he chose to title it Incomplete. He has taken a good year to put this one together, and the care shows — it is an enjoyably solid musical effort that gets better with repeated listenings.

What you get here is a CD that holds its own with any of the better later Squeeze releases — think Play or Ridiculous or Some Fantastic Place. Okay, so you no longer get the easy early-’80s radio hits from Tilbrook — but he has grown as a person and as an artist. No longer content to write easy compositions, Tilbrook now writes challenging music with complex chord changes, unusual harmonies and unexpected tempos. Always an accomplished lead guitarist, Tilbrook shows himself to be even more fully in control of the instrument now, making those Fender and Taylor guitars sing expressively right alongside those angelic vocals (check out his work on the tracks “Observatory”, “I Won’t See You” and “Morning”).

Co-produced by ex-Robyn Hitchcock sideman and former Squeeze member Andy Metcalfe, Tilbrook and Metcalfe take on the bulk of the instrumentation here, covering guitars and keyboards and bass (although there are two guest turns by Squeeze’s last bassist Hilaire Penda). Drums/Percussion are handled quite capably by either Simon Hanson or Jim Kimberley on most tracks, though some feature mere drum programming. The sound is full, the little touches and fills lovingly recorded, and it seems as much a band recording as any Squeeze effort.

At age 43 (nearly 44), he’s no spring chicken, a fact not lost on Tilbrook as revealed in recent interviews as well as in the lyrics he pens here. On the wry “Up the Creek” he tells an amusing tale of being out dancing, singing along to everything from Chic to Abba, knowing he’s looking older than he feels, and then suddenly he hears a familiar name from long ago. “I said what a surprise, do say Hello / And it put a stop to my dreams / with me and her and custard creams / Her friends were leaving, they say she should come / She said ‘I’ll remember you to my Mum'”. This song contains some musical winks to disco and the Swedish foursome as well.

The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook tells its own story, which is this: The world has changed and so has Tilbrook. The song “G.S.O.H. Essential” writes his own review, giving a sort of mini-history of his music to date, from his early fascination with The Monkees right up to his current effort here. In this song, Tilbrook reasons with his listeners, “Considering the experience there’s not much to regret / Thought I’ve picked up a few knocks, the game’s not over yet / My heart is intact and here it is for you to see / And I won’t give up at least not yet / so don’t give up on me”.

The gist of it can be summed up when Tilbrook confesses he’s “running a small shop in the age of the global superstore”. He knows the score, that this little record isn’t likely to find global acclaim. Still, he has had such moments of fame in years past and continues to move forward. As he continues to make fine music, he keeps it in perspective, while never forgetting his years on the fast track with Squeeze (note the reference to their first big hit): “I live in the real world / What d’ya think I’m laughing for? / I’m ready and waiting / You can take me now, I’m yours”.

Two things come across in abundance here. First, Tilbrook’s easy charm is apparent — here is a talent who never takes himself too seriously. Witness his “Interviewing Randy Newman”, a catchy musical story about a radio interview of his fellow songwriter that goes poorly, but gets fixed in the edit.

Secondly, you get his obvious love of Motown/Stax rhythms. Years ago, I remember reading that Tilbrook and Difford were considering putting out an album of disco tunes. While that project never materialized, you can still hear Tilbrook’s tendencies toward that musical style all these years later. “Tempted” could have been a Motown hit, as could the later “Loving You Tonight”, both songs benefiting from the soulful vocals of Paul Carrack. Many of the songs in this collection offer up the same Motown/Stax funk bass lines and percussion as interpreted through the filter of a white South Londoner.

So what about his songwriting? Without the caustic wry lyrics of a Difford, does the solo Glenn T. just flail? The answer is no — though Tilbrook relates that the solo writing was tough at first. Standard Squeeze procedure involved working from a set lyric that Difford provided. Rather than remaining stuck for a decent lyric, Tilbrook brought in Aimee Mann (“Observatory”), Ron Sexsmith (“You See Me”), Chris Braide and Kim Stockwood to help out. Once these collaborations were underway, he began to find his own lyrical muse. In the end, six of the 12 tunes are solo compositions, perhaps a bit less acidic lyrically than what Difford offers, but good songs about love lost and general reflection all the same. On the whole, this is a far better record than Squeeze’s last release, the disappointing Domino.

The Aimee Mann collaboration, “Observatory” sounds like it could fit right in on Sweets from a Stranger, as could the next track and UK-single “Parallel World”. The only non-Tilbrook composition here, the Ben Jones song “Other World”, is a lovely ballad that sounds like it could be right at home on Some Fantastic Place. “We Went Thataway” plays with harmonies in a funk/pop way that makes this listener think of David Yazbek’s music. Overall, I think pop fans in general and Squeeze fans in particular will find this mature solo effort from “that voice” to be a happy musical development.