Spot the Difference
Anchor and Hope Music
[Rating: 3 Stars]
A good 45 years into the singer-songwriter era of rock, when it’s not unusual for performers to have multi-decade careers, you rarely see an act go back into the studio to faithfully re-record old material as if nothing has changed since the first release. Sure, they offer up new versions – acoustic, live, orchestral, whatever – from time to time, but slavish recreation is seen as a crass gimmick, a throwback to rock’s early days when itinerant singles artists tried to pawn off “greatest hits” albums without having access to their original recordings.
But Squeeze, the British New Wave-originated pop band whose nucleus is the gifted singer-songwriters Chris Difford (lyricist) and Glenn Tilbrook (melodies), has always had a devilishly offbeat sense of humor – after all, they named themselves after the totally extraneous Velvet Underground album released after Lou Reed departed. So it makes sense that the Squeeze leaders (with Paul Carrack taking vocals and keyboards on “Tempted,” plus John Bentley, Simon Hanson and Stephen Large) not only would try to copy their old songs like “Black Coffee in Bed,” “Hourglass” and “Take Me I’m Yours,” but crow about it in the album’s title, Spot the Difference. And, you know what? It works. And not just because Tilbrook’s high and mellifluous voice has only ever-so-slightly thickened and Difford’s lower register – used for great deadpan effect on “Cool For Cats” – defies aging concerns, but because these effortlessly clever, tuneful and pithy songs never got their full due in the U.S. (Has there ever been a more a concise, heart-breaking narrative than “Up the Junction?”) So if this “gimmick” brings them increased renown, more power to them. And maybe Madness and a reunited English Beat are waiting in the wings.