Under Review: Squeeze – Spot The Difference

For as critical as I’ve lately been of covers albums, I remain a sucker for a collection of re-recorded favorites.  Two of my personal favorites, Cracker’s Greatest Hits Redux and Gang Of Four’s Return The Gift, arguably get more plays in my ventures than any other albums by the respective bands.  From an audiophile’s point of view, rerecording can be as powerful as remastering, making the tracks sound better than ever.  These projects also give the performers a chance to play around with the tracks in ways they might not have been able to the first time around.  This luxury was immediately eliminated by the band themselves in the case of Squeeze’s new Spot The DifferenceGlenn Tilbrook (who, along with Chris Difford and bassist John Bentley, is the only perennial member) declared early on that he and the band would try to recreate the sounds of the original recordings, defying listeners to, yes, Spot The Difference.  With that element of surprise ruled out, the band’s first album in 12 years becomes a predictable and laborious listen.

The selection of classic Squeeze songs culls many of the same tracks from their Singles – 45’s And Under compilation, with a few more tracks from East Side Story and Some Fantastic Place thrown in.  Of course, the songs themselves have held up impeccably, but a listen to any of the bands 1980s records would confirm that just as easily.  The new versions of “Is That Love,” “Take Me I’m Yours” and “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell),” while they’re indeed plenty similar to the originals, only make me want to listen to the originals.  The biggest tie to the original versions is the keyboard sound, though the unignorable absence of Jools Holland makes even those parts sound hollow.  While the instrumentation remains convincingly true to the classic recordings, Tilbrook’s and Difford’s newly-recorded vocals knock the whole disc down from pleasant to pitiful.  It’s expected that, as singers with soaring vocal styles age, they won’t be able to hit those high notes anymore.  And it would have been fine if Tilbrook had written new material to better suit his slightly weathered pipes.  Instead, he strains on “Goodbye Girl” and “Hourglass,” otherwise two of my favorite Squeeze songs.  Difford’s croak is even worse, and wrecks “Cool For Cats” as well as most of his double-vocal treatments with Tilbrook.

One of Spot The Difference’s last tracks brings some light relief from the uninteresting contents that preceded it.  “Tempted,” one of my least favorite Squeeze songs, is here reprised by on-again-off-again keyboardist Paul Carrack, whose presence admittedly brought a smile to my lips.  Even so, Elvis Costello’s parts on “Tempted” and “Black Coffee In Bed” are sung by one of the new bandmates, leaving me to think that Carrack’s presence came after an amount of pleading that wasn’t enough to get Costello on board.  Even after this album, I’m still a big Squeeze fan.  Not even the band themselves can change that, try as they might.  However, the uninspired results of the potentially delightful Spot The Difference, along with their last few studio albums suggests that, not only don’t Squeeze have ‘it’ now, but they haven’t had ‘it’ for quite some time.

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~ by E. on August 18, 2010.

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