"play": reviews 

CD Review, November 1991
Ratings: 8 (performance)/8 (sound quality)
Review by David Okamoto.
Reprise 26644-2 (DDD) 1991 (91) Disc Time: 52:32 

    Throughout their careers, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze have penned luscious pop songs that are so unabashedly tuneful it's been easy to overlook what they had to say in favor of how gracefully they said it.

    So to the casual fan, the British quartet's eighth studio album, Play, may seem like a brooding letdown. Difford and Tilbrook's sweet, forceful harmonies are in abundance, but they're wedded to dense, sometimes busy arrangements anchored by gurgling horns, wailing electric guitars, and swelling keyboards. Some of the new songs echo the group's previous hits: "Crying In My Sleep" is a spunky rewrite of "Hourglass," while "Cupid's Toy" retraces the Philly soul imprints of "Black Coffee In Bed". Overall, Play boasts more of a sneaky appeal than such instantly likable efforts as Argybargy and Babylon And On, resulting in a delightful disc designed to be absorbed, not just heard.

    Colorful shades of country, folk, blues, and soul music abound, as do distinctive contributions from such guest musicians as Bruce Hornsby, Michael Penn, ex-Elvis Costello keyboardist Steve Nieve, and two members of Spinal Tap. The overriding theme is love that has soured and curdled. But instead of vindictive accusations and trite philosophies, Squeeze opts for intriguing narratives that examine post-romantic fallout - anger, loneliness, and despair - with sharp imagery ("Her nails were long and sharp/But she didn't play the harp"), keen observations ("He has a crease in his jeans/A frown on his face/The scent of a man who thinks he has taste"), and clever wordplay ("I had the rug pulled from under my feet/But I didn't feel a thing").

    During the course of this disc, we are introduced to jilted lovers who spend their lonely nights cruising bars ("Cupid's Toy"), betting at the track ("Gone To The Dogs"), and reveling in their complacency ("The Day I Get Home"). Splintering couples are the most abundant characters, from the warring spouses of "Wicked and Cruel" and "House Of Love" to the intimate strangers of "Satisfied" and the bored lovers of the chilling "Letting Go" ("We cuddle up and say 'Goodnight'/It's all the lover there is tonight").

    Difford and Tilbrook flaunt their emotional battle scars without lapsing into self-pity, but they haven't given up on true love. Play ends with a stirring ballad called "There Is A Voice," which suggests that hope is merely sidetracked, not lost. It is a fitting statement from an on-again, off-again band that continues to rally in the face of commercial indifference to consistently turn out poignant, powerful pop music.

Q Magazine, September 1991 
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Review by Phil Sutcliffe.

    Of course, when it comes to pop lyrics, any old bollocks will do, given the tune and given the feel. "All right now", "She loves you", "Tutti Frutti"- no problem. Some even say a carefully crafted couplet can spoil their fun by demanding unwanted mental endeavour. Well, Squeeze are not for them. 

    Although Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook are fine tunesmiths and Squeeze are a beat group with power, simplicity and the scope to offer a constant supply of small surprises, they rock out, kick ass and stir it up with words. 

    Play is a moving picture show from the first sharp image of the opening Satisfied: "They had just made love/silent on the bed/this was their celebration", and then: "They stroked each other/he played with her hair/deep in a warm sedation/the legs of his jeans hung over the chair/love was their meditation". It's the jeans that clinch it; eyes and minds wandering while they're telling themselves they've found heavenly bliss. 

    It's a hard sort of humour, the humour of unease, and the breaking-up songs are particularly good. In Letting Go, it's the stage where the fire's gone out but neither party can bear to say it first. No melodramatic breast-beating, but in Squeeze's small, all-too-real world, the line "She boils the eggs, I make the tea", as banal as you like, writes a book on the ache of being seperate inside. 

    Only once do they let love survive the fragilities of passion and romance and then, in Walk A Straight Line, it's at a point when a step back has been decided upon: "We all need time, time on our own/so we can see how our love has grown". 

    Aside from the "love" stories, there's a whole gallery of living colour snapshots and cartoons: "The tick-tack man throws out his arms/his thin moustache stretched on his face" (Gone To The Dogs); "He has a crease in his jeans, a frown on his face/the scent of a man who thinks he has taste" (Cupid's Toy); "Siesta time in the living room/snores go in and out of tune" (Sunday Street). 

    Meanwhile, there are all those basic on-the-money Beatle-loving sounds, which ought to be more acceptable now, in the days of James, The La's, Jellyfish and Happy Mondays, than they were at any time in the '80s. 

    However, there's no obvious reason why such typical brilliance should get through to a fresh multitude rather than their usual largish cult following. It's hard to imagine what holds Squeeze back unless, perhaps, it's a matter of voice. Lennon & McCartney or Ray Davies are constantly lauded for their writing, but their singing makes a significant difference. Glenn Tilbrook, who takes all the leads now, is hunky dory, you'd never raise a quibble, except that at the highest level- as John Motson would say- he may be outmanoeuvred by his own co-writings. Through a bit of bad luck in the tonsil region he can't sing it from his soul to yours, only from there to ear. It's odd. 

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