Review: Squeeze — Cradle To The Grave

3.5 OUT OF 5 NUTS!

squeeze-cradletothegraveSqueeze is a band that owes all its success to the songwriting savvy of the Difford /Tillbrook partnership. Glenn Tillbrook finesses long, complicated chord progressions into short pop/rock templates, creating these sometimes angular, sometimes soulful, but always original good-time melodies.

As good as Tillbrook is, the real star of the songwriting team is lyricist Chris Difford. Difford is a storyteller of the common man, with a poetic eye for everyday details that bring his stories and songs to life.

Think back to the big Squeeze songs, and it’s the words and images that stand out. The guy who passed out in the bathroom being awoken by the morning sunlight on the floor tiles. The foot without a sock at a clumsy seduction. Another nail for my heart. Pulling mussels from the shell.

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It goes on and on, all these florid, ribald tales of youthful love and debauchery. But as we all know too well, youth doesn’t last forever. So what stories get chronicled Squeeze-style 35 years later, on this, their first album of new material in 17 years?

Well Difford still has fun with the follies of youth, except that now, like most older men, he’s revisiting them from memory. It seems like half the album is spent looking back at years gone by. This can be partly excused since Cradle To The Grave doubles as a soundtrack for a popular TV show in the UK set in the 1970s.

But the passage of time also allows Difford to consider the everyday lives of his aging contemporaries, and this provides some of the album’s most powerful moments. The title track is a jaunty little lament indebted to Ray Davies and the English music hall tradition, complete with swinging banjo. Which means it’s certainly isn’t everyone’s cuppa, but it’s a nicely written song containing some pretty sage advice:

They say time is of the essence
They say time will always tell
I wasted time in constant panic
As the Rome around me fell

And each moment that is stolen
Gives another time to breathe
In a life of turning pages
With the bit between my teeth

From the cradle to the grave
I know I won’t be a slave
To the mistakes that I made
With the passion and the pace
And I won’t go til I’m ready
From the cradle to the grave

The disconnect between the tone of the music and the lyrics is part of the charm of Squeeze. They are a good time band, and they don’t do ballads, and they don’t do despair, even when the lyrics are pretty bleak. “Nirvana” is a sad, almost tragic lyric, but it features disco-type strings, beat, and backing vocals, plus a lively, flickering melody, mostly in major keys.

The children had all left home
The house was like a ship without a sail
They headed for the sunset
Where maybe they would find a holy grail…

He quibbled with ambition
She fell into a rut
They sat and read the papers
In sequence they would touch
The creeping realization
Like a punch in the gut

Each day like the one before
The dreams evaporated
As the weeks and months turned into years
The queasy feeling that they wanted more

He said his word was final
She heard him slam the door
Anytime she would pipe up
He heard it all before
Although they blame each other
Really they knew the score
They were in this together
Like children holding back tears
They’ve come so far to end up
With nothing down the years

The apparent incongruity between music and lyrics, to me, makes the song more compelling. And sometimes when the music and lyrics aren’t so great, like on the cloyingly sweet “Happy Days”, the song is almost saved by the arrangement, in this case the sudden appearance of a gospel vocal group. The track “Sunny”, another childhood reminiscence, is accompanied only by string quartet, enhancing the power of the story.

As always, these Squeeze songs are deeply rooted in the U.K., and this profound British sensibility will prevent American audiences from fully appreciating the work, like it always has. But for students of the pop/rock song, it’s a real treat to hear this quirky songwriting team in action again, despite the somewhat hit and miss success rate of the album as a whole.

Release Date: Oct. 2, 2015

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One comment to “Review: Squeeze — Cradle To The Grave”
  1. Pingback: Song Of The Day: Squeeze – "Another Nail In My Heart" (1980) | Rocknuts

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