Squeeze is on in Aspen
July 23, 2010
ASPEN – It is said that any relationship that begins on a lie is bound to end in disappointment. And then there is the story of the rock band, Squeeze.
The hit-making U.K. band got its start in 1973, when a teenager named Chris Difford posted a notice in a London shop, saying he was looking for a guitarist. The notice said his musical interests were Glenn Miller, the Kinks and Lou Reed (an interesting range, but true) and that he had a band and a recording contract (complete B.S.).
“He didn’t have a band; he didn’t have a record deal,” Glenn Tilbrook, the guitarist who answered the ad, said. “It was just Chris. But we got along real well.”
Thirty-seven years later, Tilbrook and Difford are still getting on, and still making music. Squeeze, the band they formed in the ’70s and that had a series of big hits in the ’80s, has been an on-and-off affair over the decades. But for the moment, Squeeze is on – in the middle of a five-week U.S. tour that comes to Aspen Saturday for a gig at Belly Up, touring behind a new album, “Spot the Difference,” due for release Aug. 3. The new album is an unusual and dubious effort, featuring new recordings of the band’s hits, but done so faithfully to the originals that listeners are challenged to, yes, spot the difference.
But Tilbrook and Difford, the two founders, main songwriters and still the Squeeze frontmen, are looking forward as well as backward. Tilbrook, who writes the music, and Difford, who generally contributes the lyrics, have carved out time for later this summer to come up with new songs, trying to carry out the weighty task that was handed them as young lads: to become “the new Lennon and McCartney.”
And on the current tour, Squeeze is witnessing a most gratifying sight: young listeners, who weren’t around when “Tempted” and “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” were first becoming rock staples, are embracing the band as a contemporary, and relevant, act. That’s different than a decade ago, when Tilbrook noticed that the audience had grown old with them, and they took one of their extended breaks from Squeeze.
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“Now, it’s amazing how many kids are coming to see us,” the 52-year-old Tilbrook said from a tour stop in Wisconsin. “They didn’t experience us back in the day, but they are going mad.”
Much of the credit has to be given to the songs. “Black Coffee in Bed,” “Hourglass,” “Another Nail in My Heart” may not have been immediate monster hits in the U.S.; “Tempted,” which went to No. 8, was their biggest American single. But Squeeze’s combination of of-the-moment ’80s New Wave, soulful vocals, and a knack for the craft of songwriting have given their catalog endurance. And though the songs haven’t charted since the mid-’80s, even as the band has occasionally regrouped to make new albums, Tilbrook says Squeeze maintains its musicianship and fondness for performing.
“We have an energy and enthusiasm about what we do. The band is spunky and punchy,” he said. “I saw the Stones in 1990, and I was amazed at how great they were. And I’m amazed at how great we still are.”
Early on, Squeeze attracted attention from the upper tiers of popular music. Their first recordings were produced by John Cale, the violist and singer of the art-rock band the Velvet Underground. (Squeeze had taken its name from the Velvet Underground’s 1973 album of the same name.) The band’s first keyboardist was Jools Holland, who has gone on to work with Eric Clapton and Sting; when Holland left, in 1981, he was replaced by Paul Carrack, who had been a member of Roxy Music and would go on to work with the Pretenders and Ringo Starr. Elvis Costello produced Squeeze’s most notable album, “East Side Story,” from 1981.
Squeeze still manages to find prominent fans. Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, the drummer, producer and frontman of hip-hop group the Roots, is putting together an album that has hip-hop artists paying tribute to Squeeze. Tilbrook first met ?uestlove last week, when Squeeze appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” on which the Roots provide the music. He seemed to still be buzzing over the idea that the contemporary hip-hop world would take an interest in an ’80s pop band.
“That was the most incredible thank-you ever, that our songs can withstand doing that,” Tilbrook said. “His knowledge of Squeeze material is staggering – the B sides, everything. It’s going to be an amazing piece of art. Honestly, I felt so humbled when I heard about it.”