It's back to the eighties this week, specifically 1981 for Squeeze's sterling fourth release, East Side Story.
For as long as I can remember, I've grown up on Squeeze's music, mixed in with anything from Marillion to Coldplay and tracks such as Labelled With Love and Tempted formed the musical soundtrack for a lot of my childhood. It seems a real no-brainer to recommend East Side Story both due to its musical merits and personal sentiments.
In Quintessence is Difford and Tilbrook's tip-of-the-hat to one Elvis Costello (we've got a highly-popular column on Elvis Costello's This Year's Model on the site that you can find here: https://www.untitledblog.co.uk/post/album-of-the-week-elvis-costello-the-attractions-this-year-s-model) , who majorly produces East Side Story, barring this one track that's produced by Dave Thomas. Brilliant lyrical structures combine with the Pete Thomas-esque drumming to produce a rather stellar opening song. Despite its inspiration, the writing partnership of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook produces proper kitchen-sink realism in droves on this song, working wonders as they often do. It's an ideal opener. The following Someone Else's Heart takes a different turn, choosing for something deeper and darker, and a new-wave type sound, similar to that of Duran Duran or The Human League. Its thumping bass fits in perfectly with spoken vocals to produce something full of musical substance.
Tempted, with its sumptuous organ and Paul Carrack's amazing vocal, has to go down as one of both Squeeze's and the eighties' best songs. Its lyrics are caked with a relatable routine of getting ready, before the innocence fades away and Carrack's vocal reveals the infidelity of our speaker. It's an art form, managing to entwine a light and happy vocal with a darker storyline, similar to The Beatles' Maxwell's Silver Hammer in a way. Regardless, Tempted is a real standout on East Side Story and a track that is obviously much-loved by fans. What's not to love about it? Piccadilly typifies a metropolitan love story in a brilliant way, with tidbits of Elvis Costello seeping in once again, especially the slightly heavier riff that's reminiscent a little of Oliver's Army. Fabulous.
There's No Tomorrow takes a completely different turn with its out-there sound effects and prominent bass sounds creating something sci-fi yet sinister simultaneously. It's perhaps a little left-field of what I'm used to, but in part sounds like it'd fit on an early John Lennon album perfectly. Woman's World takes us forward a track or two, ending Side One with typical Squeeze. It's an Up The Junction type tune, with Glenn Tilbrook's vocal sounding as polished and pristine as ever, being backed by some light drums and simple guitar work. It goes to show that sometimes simplicity can work wonders. You don't always need complex production work or intricate chord patterns to create something magical.
Is That Love opens Side Two with something a little faster than its predecessors and clocking in at just over two and a half minutes. It wouldn't sound out of place performed live in a sixties cellar, with a break in the middle of the song for a lovely guitar solo. The opening reminds me of a Shadows instrumental and that's of course no bad thing. It's hard to ignore the absolutely marvellous Labelled With Love, a song I see as East Side Story's best by far. The minimalistic sounds backing Glenn Tilbrook allow him to evoke one of the album's most passionate vocals and tell a rather solemn story. In addition, Labelled With Love once again demonstrates Difford and Tilbrook's stellar songwriting abilities. You can really see why people labelled them "the new Lennon and McCartney" and to me, they fit that description perfectly.
We move forward a few songs to finish East Side Story with a couplet of Vanity Fair and Messed Around. The former utilises a more orchestral sound with Tilbrook's talkative vocal telling the story of a girl who tries her best to live the high life but will end up fading away into mediocrity. The song's melody could be seen as a little sympathetic to the girl he describes, sounding in part like The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby. Messed Around acts as a tribute to fifties rock 'n' roll with its walking bassline and little piano licks from Paul Carrack marking out one of the album's best songs. It's got this fabulous instantaneous foot-tapping feeling and dancing to it is pretty much compulsive. That's the sign of a great song.
There's no doubt to me that East Side Story is one of the best collections of songs of the twentieth century from two of Britain's most under-rated songwriters. It's diverse, tightly-knit and a wonderful introduction to one of the best bands of the last century bar none. You'll laugh, you'll cry, but above all, you'll have a bloody brilliant time.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/3hJNfGe
Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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