"sweets from a stranger": reviews

Sweets From a Stranger (A&M) 

CREEM Magazine Review, 1982

    Sweets From a Stranger is an apt title for an album that parcels out pop goodies by the boxcar, but whose relentlessly rococo style tends to shroud any vestige of personal conviction. Goodies first: Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford do have a way with a hook, and their grasp of pop lexicon is enough to make critics drool (which is why Squeeze's media eclat is so far out of sync with their modest commerical success). Sheer precocity, however, does not the new Lennon and McCartney make; indeed, Squeeze is still most effective when (as on Argybargy) their textural flourishes are kept to a minimum, thus accenting the band's fundamental strengths - fresh confectionery melodies, a frenetic Farfisa beat and Tilbrook's wry social vignettes. Alas, hanging around with Elvis Costello (who produced last season's East Side Story) seems to have injected Tilbrook and co. with a dose of misguided ambition. Instead of honing their natural bent for light, swinging rhythms, for instance, Sweets' musical centerpiece, the six-minute-plus "Black Coffee in Bed," attempts to replicate a Stax-style funk pulse - and the effect is decidedly Cremora. This flirtation with unsuitable genres finds further resonance on "Stranger Than the Stranger On the Shore" (even more preposterous funk) and again on "When the Hangover Strikes," a laconic jazzy torcher with string backdrop less reminiscent of Ray Charles than Enoch Light.

    Still, a band so clever and aspiring must occasionally hit the mark. "Out of Touch," with its audacious Kraftwerk intro, lends a bracing high-tech aura to an otherwise mundane blues thumper. "I Can't Hold On" and "His House Her Home" are vintage Tilbrook trifles, the former a rousing garage anthem, the latter a gauzy pas de deux framed by Don Snow's elegant keyboard symmetries and Glenn's bittersweet lament. With his airy timbre and agile phrasing, Tilbrook remains one of pop's most dexterous singers, but his lyricism here is too often vague or listless, lacking the proud edge of romantic melancholy that informed earlier narratives. Perhaps not coincidentally, Squeeze has opted for a deep-focus production, pushing Glenn's vocals futher back into the mix, and nearly obliterating Chris Difford's altogether. In any event, their diminished presence helps underline the current Squeeze enigma - a band which seeks everything except its own quintessence.

Editor's Note: For whatever reason, Mr. Rowland confused the songwriting roles of Difford and Tilbrook. Chris Difford is, and always has been, Squeeze's lyricist, Glenn Tilbrook writes the music.

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