When it comes to music, the United Kingdom could be the subject of Joe Pesci’s classic paranoid rant in the film JFK when he declares, “It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma!”
What works for UK audiences often is lost on the rest of the world. It’s not unheard of for an artist to play sold-out arenas across the pond, but here in the United States they’re performing in empty clubs. To make matters more confusing, the UK often prides itself on being the first to discover an artist; but, when the rest of the world catches on, it’s the first to jump ship.
There are even homegrown artists that are so beloved in the United Kingdom that their massive popularity, and in many cases longevity, is nothing short of shocking to stateside music fans.
There is perhaps no better example of the UK music conundrum than the band Squeeze.
Now if you’re thinking, “Squeeze, weren’t they that’ 80s band that did the catchy song about fruit, or, wait a minute, was it shells?” well, you’d be somewhat correct. Here in the United States, Squeeze is more or less a one- or two- or maybe three-hit wonder, depending on your definition of a hit.
Squeeze’s “Tempted” with its catchy-as-can-be chorus, was only a moderate hit, but over the years it has appeared in countless commercials, movies, TV shows and video games, and is now a staple of classic rock radio.
The band’s other signature tune, “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” a hook-filled song complete with a pre-chorus for the ages and more UK references and slang than perhaps “God Save the Queen,” was on KROQ’s regular rotation for years and has also been a classic rock radio fixture as well as a popular cover for both indie and punk rock bands.
Lastly, if you were raised on MTV in the mid- to late-’80s, there’s also a chance you might even remember the trippy optical illusion video “Hourglass,” which briefly hit the top 20 in the States.
If that’s the extent of your Squeeze knowledge, you’re already ahead of the curve, but there’s still a lot we can learn from our friends in Britain who put the band’s founding members, Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, in the same songwriting company as Lennon and McCartney.
Is that the UK’s famed overzealous pride talking? In this case, no.
Squeeze’s career has spanned five decades, produced 14 studio albums — several of which are classics — countless live albums and compilations, and despite the occasional breakup and revolving door of band members, the musical partnership between Tilbrook and Difford has, since the 1970s, produced some of the best songwriting in all of pop music.
With Squeeze’s new record, Cradle to the Grave (its first original full-length in almost 20 years), being released this week in the United States, Squeeze may finally get its due on this side of the Atlantic.
Originally created for and named after a popular British TV show, Cradle to the Grave is 45 minutes of 3- to 4-minute pop songwriting perfection complete with Dilford’s often sly observations and clever wordplay and Tilbrook’s sensational melodies. It’s easily the group’s best record since its 1980s heyday and one of the best records of the year.
To celebrate its release in the states, Dilford and Tilbrook will be embarking on a run of dates, appearing as an acoustic duo and making an ultra-rare appearance in Ventura County where they will perform songs from their massive catalog and share stories from the band’s career.
To see the two legends in such an intimate setting as the Canyon Club is a not-to-be-missed opportunity, one that most likely will be filled with transplanted Brits who have known all along that, outside of their country, Squeeze is one of the most underappreciated bands of all time.
Glen Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze appear at the Canyon Club on Tuesday, Nov.17. For more information and tickets, visit www.canyonclub.net.