Few new-wave power-pop bands had as much going for them as Squeeze. Chris Difford's textured deep-register vocals resonated below Glenn Tilbrook's smooth pop croon with an astoundingly cool chemistry. Squeeze's blend of guitars and synthesizers epitomized new wave's fun essence. Furthermore, Difford's insidiously clever lyrics integrated seamlessly with songwriting partner Tilbrook's infectiously hummable melodies, exceptionally capitalizing on the inherent rhythm and melody of language.
Squeeze disbanded in 1982, only to regroup in 1985. Then in 1999, Difford and Tilbrook had a falling out that killed Squeeze for a second, seemingly final time, and the guys parted ways to pursue solo careers. Tilbrook's Cleveland solo tour stops this decade yielded some of the Beachland's most warmly remembered gigs, and Difford has also kept quite active and just released a well-received album, The Last Temptation of Chris.
While working together on a Squeeze book in 2004, Glenn and Chris rekindled their friendship and now consider each other closer friends than ever. Last year's reissues led to a handful of U.K. media appearances together, which led to some full-blown reunion concerts. The reunited Squeeze eventually did a few American dates, documented on a live CD called 5 Live. Speaking by phone from England before embarking on Squeeze's new U.S. tour (which brings the band to town as part of the annual Taste of Cleveland event this weekend), Tilbrook describes how his creative partnership with Difford predated Squeeze's first EP, which was self-released in 1977.
"It was 1973; I found an ad looking for musicians that Chris had posted in a sweet-shop," he says of his first encounter with his songwriting partner. "It described this band that had a record deal and was influenced by the Velvet Underground, the Kinks and Glenn Miller. But there weren't any other band members, and I was the only person who responded. And the 'record deal' was just one of Chris' fanciful dreams - the first of many, actually. But I recognized that we really had something and always knew we would be successful at it."
Tilbrook was awestruck by Difford's amazing way with words, and Difford was likewise smitten by Tilbrook's profound capacity for catchy melodies. With an immense mutual respect to keep egos in check, it was an ideal recipe. For the first few years, the guys weren't performing much in public, instead just writing and refining songs by themselves, with dozens of tunes already written before Squeeze ever began to record.
The current Squeeze tour features a thorough retrospective of the band's back catalog. As Tilbrook says, the band will play "at least a song or two from every album."
"I think there are really five [essential] Squeeze albums, and they each capture a particular time of the band," notes Tilbrook, assessing the strengths within the Squeeze repertoire. "Cool for Cats, Argybargy and East Side Story show a progression of a certain maturity. I think our earlier records were some of our most adventurous. Play was released on Warner in 1991, and then the label dropped us immediately after it came out. A&M released Some Fantastic Place in 1993, and A&M also dropped us immediately."
Tilbrook laments that few people have ever heard those discs, despite the fact that they contain what he considers to be some of Squeeze's finest work. In recent years, Difford has been performing, on his own, radically folky reinterpretations of Squeeze classics, documented on his 2007 album South East Side Story. For Squeeze's 2008 tour, the aim is keeping the arrangements and attitude as faithful as possible to the original recordings. The recent Squeeze concerts were the first time some songs were performed that way live, due to past technical limitations or other barriers.
"We never did 'Goodbye Girl' live before," explains Tillbrook. "Drum machines tended to drift and Moogs could be unpredictable. Now we can use digital samplers for those, and it sounds great."
Although Squeeze is officially back in action, with a high likelihood of brand-new Difford/Tilbrook studio recordings, Tilbrook has no intentions of abandoning the particular creative processes and concert experiences of his recent solo career.
"I've really learned a lot about the fans from these smaller shows," he says. "I really don't want to lose touch with that." Tilbrook has plans for a solo tour next spring and is wrapping up a new solo album with his backing band, the Fluffers.
"It should be out February 2009," he says of the solo disc. "I don't know what the album is going to be called yet, but I do know there will be a song on it entitled 'Beachland Ballroom.' I really appreciate the people who run it and what they struggle with to keep a place like that open."