(Anchor and Hope Music)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Those familiar with the bulging Squeeze catalog know the UK band was far more inventive than the power pop that dominated their most memorable music. Deep album tracks showed a darker, less effervescent sound and some moderately successful experimental tendencies that were bubbling under the surface. On his own, Squeeze frontman Glenn Tilbrook sneaks some of that inventiveness into his solo albums resulting in this, his first acoustic release and fourth of original material. Unplugging is nothing new to Tilbrook; he issued his debut solo outing from 2001 in both electric and acoustic versions and also occasionally tours without his rocking Fluffers outfit. But just because electricity is absent, doesn’t mean this is rootsy, strummy folk music.
On the contrary, Happy Ending sounds like a bunch of top notch, jittery Squeeze songs dialed down just a notch. Tilbrook has always excelled at telling stories about characters so it’s little surprise that seven of these dozen tracks are titled with the name of their main character(s). From “Persephone”’s “Eleanor Rigby”-styled chamber strings to “Rupert”’s (yep, about Mr. Murdoch) pop crunch and “Peter”’s chanting singalong chorus, Tilbrook uses his protagonists as focal points around which to construct detailed slices of life. He pushes his own well known pop element not just for the unplugged sound but also in the Indian raga guitar and tabla percussion of the psychedelic “Mud Island.” There has always been a hint of the Beatles in Tilbrook’s approach, but seldom more so than the George Harrison soundalike slide guitar that propels “Hello There,” which seems like a pretty good Badfinger B side.
While he probably could have left the fluffy children’s song “Bongo Bill” —complete with vocals from his own 7 and 10 year old sons– for his own B side, there is plenty of inspired, hook heavy music here to satiate any Squeeze fan. With Tilbrook’s distinctive boyish vocals, creative production, and inventive melodies, it’s likely many listeners won’t even realize this is an acoustic album. But most will agree, it adds a unique spin to the singer/songwriter’s established MO without coloring too far outside his pure pop comfort zone.