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.
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.
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.
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