In 1981, Squeeze released East Side Story, and it’s generally regarded as the peak of their recording career. Spurred on co-producer Elvis Costello and boasting a key contribution from new member Paul Carrack, the band branched out from the tight pop songs of their previous albums and created a wild ride of an LP unified by the outstanding songwriting of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook. Here is a song-by-song review.
14. “Piccadilly”- This one has always been a bit busy for my tastes. The rhythmic thrust and chunky guitars are reminiscent of Madness, but there isn’t much of a hook onto which to hang.
13. “There’s No Tomorrow”- Slow-motion psychedelia was just one of the many stylistic detours Squeeze took on East Side Story. The song does indeed mirror the drunken stumblings of a broken-hearted fool, maybe a bit too well to be anything more than a novelty.
12. “Heaven”- The band had a knack of pulling hooks out of the air, and they prove it here with some melodic elements that flirt with discordance yet somehow pull together. Difford’s observations of the weary souls inhabiting a barroom are typically literate and on-point.
11. “Messed Around”- The rockabilly swagger of this track makes for an understated way to end such a heady album. It’s also further proof that good songwriting will work in any genre, and Squeeze always had that.
10. “Mumbo Jumbo”- I have no idea what the hell “The dip is dabbled” means; I just know it’s a blast to hear Tilbrook high-step his way through Difford’s wildly intricate lyrical constructions. Bizarre yet catchy.
9. “Someone Else’s Bell”- Some bluesy attitude drips from Tilbrook’s lead vocal about a cuckolded lover, pushing this one a few notches above mere filler. Then again, even Squeeze’s filler was better than filler, you know?
8. “F-Hole”- The tale of a one-night stand gone horribly awry is an excellent showcase for Chris Difford’s humorous rhymes, such as “Wallpaper very scenic/Her outlook very beatnik.” The strings, just a tad askew from the rest of the song, are meant to evoke the surreal nature of this encounter. Note how the end of the song leads cleverly into “Labelled With Love.”
7. “Someone’s One Heart”- Difford takes the lead on this one, getting harmony support from Tilbrook through a twisting, moody melody. Nice work by the rhythm section of John Bentley on bass and Gilson Lavis on drums on this one, an affecting tale of romantic misconceptions.
6. “In Quintessence”- The lone track on the album produced by Dave Edmunds carries a little bit of his rockabilly feel in the guitar break, but otherwise this track is indeed quintessential Squeeze. The high/low harmonies of Difford and Tilbrook bounce through the nimble wordplay in a clever, funny, and somehow poignant character sketch of a young man who’s an expert at wasting his life.
5. “Is That Love”- Perfectly-constructed power pop seemed to just flow out of Squeeze at their peak, and this is a perfect example. The melody is wonderful, the music achieves just the right bit of tension and release, and the lyrics flow so inevitably from one word to the next that it seems effortless. Bonus points for the hushed coda.
4. “Vanity Fair”- Difford’s lyrics here are an almost cruel dissection of a not-quite beauty trying to live the high life but destined for mediocrity. It’s a good thing Tilbrook caresses her in such a sympathetic melody, which, when given the “Eleanor Rigby” orchestral treatment, makes you believe her “Vanity Fair” dreams will come true
3. “Labelled With Love”- It’s tempting to write this big UK hit as a tongue-in-cheek embrace of country music cliches. But there’s a moving tale hidden beneath the wisecracks. A war bride finds herself all alone on a Texas prairie after her husband’s death, and slowly disintegrates into a haze of booze and squalor. It’s not exactly uplifting, but the band wisely shows sympathy rather than snark for this sad character, and that makes all the difference.
2. “Woman’s World”- One of the underrated songs in the band’s catalog, “Woman’s World” is perfect in just about every way, from the yearning melody to the band’s expert handling of the material to Glenn Tilbrook’s great vocal. The title is an ironic allusion to the pressures of being a wife and mother, pressures that drive the protagonist to a night of drunken revelry in defiance of her role as head of the household. Songs like this one prove that the whole “Difford/Tilbrook are this generation’s Lennon/McCartney” theory wasn’t that far-fetched.
1. “Tempted”- Paul Carrack is one of the underrated singers of his generation, and his all-time performance (and, yes, I’m aware of “Living Years”) is this wonderful effort that has become the band’s signature song. That’s Elvis Costello pitching in on vocals in the second verse, but he wisely ceded center stage to Carrack, who nails the emotions of a guy who’s been left behind by his love and struggling with whether or not to move on. Look up blue-eyed soul in the dictionary, and the dictionary will play you this song.
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