Glenn Tilbrook & Steve Poltz
Martyrs - Chicago
May 7, 2002
First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2002, Volume 9, #6
Written by T.J. Simon
For nearly 30 years, Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford have been compared to the successful British songwriting duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. And while Squeeze never reached the legendary status of The Beatles, Difford and Tilbrook can certainly be proud of their catalog of thirteen albums as well as their string of hits ranging from the new wave of 1978’s Take Me I’m Yours to the blue-eyed soul of 1993’s Some Fantastic Place. Of course, there isn’t a musical artist on this planet who wouldn’t love to write a song with the legs of Squeeze’s Tempted. But in 1999, after the release of the warmly-received Domino, Difford decided to call it quits. He had had enough of touring the world and was sick of the music business in general, though he welcomed Tilbrook to keep the Squeeze name alive in his absence.
But rather than producing a solo record under the valuable Squeeze brand name, Tilbrook chose to release The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook, an uneven collection of 12 new compositions and three "bonus" tracks. As you might expect, Tilbrook’s work without Difford sounds quite a bit like Squeeze much of the time, but generally only about half as good as his former band’s best work. In any case, hearing Tilbrook’s voice again is like catching up with an old friend. His smooth, Brit delivery is always pleasant and recognizable, which isn’t surprising given it’s been part of the pop music landscape for nearly three decades.
The disc begins with This Is Where You Ain’t, a Motown-y, light rock number with a heavy synth accompaniment. Likewise, One Dark Moment is a good song with a convincing electronic horn section. Arguably the best song is Observatory, which was co-written by Aimee Mann and succeeds despite the unimaginative, syncopated drum beats. In fact, bad percussion is a running theme throughout Tilbrook’s entire solo debut. From the disco-tinged Parallel World to the drum-loopy Up the Creek, Tilbrook proves that he has the chops to be a solid solo artist, but he ought to steer clear of funky dance arrangements.
The problems on The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook are all instrumental in nature. The lyrics are good — sometimes they’re great — and the melodies are solid, if basic. However, both the lyrics and the melodies drown in simply awful instrumentation that loses Tilbrook’s talents in a cacophony of synths, drum machines, and moog keyboards. On Interviewing Randy Newman, Tilbrook sings a fascinating, presumably true story of his foray into music journalism when he conducted a satellite interview on England’s Radio Two with Newman. It’s a great little story of two prolific artists who had never met before, but the tale is buried in a painfully circular synthesizer loop. Tilbrook would have done better to actually release the 60-minute interview with Newman, rather than this version of the song.
Overall Tilbrook’s release without Difford is an inoffensive, but unremarkable album of generally mediocre compositions. But prior to investing any dough in The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook, one would be better off with one of the many good, underappreciated Squeeze albums, such as Play or Frank, that never got a lick of radio time.
There is a historical precedent for the current fractured status of Squeeze. Difford and Tillbrook split apart following the release of 1982’s Sweets with a Stranger and reunited in 1985 with much of their best work ahead of them. Accordingly, there is still hope for the future. In the meantime, Tilbrook’s current solo tour rolled into Chicago on May 7 with a gig at Martyrs’ Restaurant and Pub, a cozy club that was subbed at the last minute after lackluster advance ticket sales at a much larger venue became a recipe for an embarrassing turnout. The downshift in room size was a coup for longtime Squeeze fans who could practically reach out and touch Tilbrook during his two-hour acoustic set. The packed audience got their money’s worth as the affable Tilbrook took requests from the crowd and performed stripped down versions of hits from the Squeeze catalog including Hourglass and Black Coffee in Bed. The audience was also in good voice and played an integral part of the show as they were invited to sing along with the hits. He even drew from the band’s more obscure works in Quintessence and Touching Me, Touching You. Throughout the evening, his wonderful vocals were smooth and pleasant as ever. Even the songs he featured from The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook made more sense when boiled down to the bare essentials: Tilbrook, that voice, and a guitar.
After about 90 minutes of performing, Tilbrook left the stage, came back for his encore, and did something truly unique: he invited the crowd to take a musical walk outside with him. The entire audience filed outside the bar with Tilbrook — who began performing Goodbye Girl while trotting backwards up the city sidewalk with a few hundred singing fans in tow. He marched into traffic and into a neighboring bar where a few unsuspecting patrons were trying to watch the Lakers-Spurs game in peace. Tilbrook sat on top of the bar and performed Pulling Mussels (from the Shell) to the gaggle of fans from the show that joined him on the walk. After he concluded the song, he sprinted back to Martyrs to finish his encore-turned-second-set with You Were Always on My Mind, Tempted, and Another Nail for My Heart. His populist gambit paid off, and there wasn’t a fan among the audience who will ever forget that show.
The opening act was an extremely pleasant surprise named Steve Poltz, the former frontman of San Diego’s The Rugburns, who greatly increased his income and notoriety by co-writing the 1995 Jewel hit You Were Meant for Me. This allowed Poltz to release his own solo album One Left Shoe. The disc is a mix of good (Good Morning) and great (Beautiful Day) singer-songwriter tunes in the tradition of like-minded artist Jules Shear. Jewel repaid the favor to Poltz by co-writing four of the songs on his album and singing on his fantastic radio single Silver Lining, which features the best world-is-going-to-heck lyric in years: "We used to have hope/Now we got soap on a rope/We used to have dreams/Now we got overpaid baseball teams."
At the Chicago concert, Poltz was hilarious. His funny, catchy songs would have been equally at home in a comedy club as they were in rock concert. He performed Silver Lining then launched into a series of witty originals and covers including TLC’s Waterfalls, sung as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the late pop star/arsonist Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes. Poltz definitely won over a crowd of strangers unfamiliar with his work and were anxious to see Tilbrook play some very familiar hits.
The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook
(What Are Records?)
One Left Shoe
The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
Steve Poltz's One Left Shoe is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box