Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook have been making records for almost 15 years, but seldom have they strayed from their main topic, which is the seeming impossibility of domestic tranquility.
It comes as a bit of a surprise, then, that the new album by Squeeze, the British band that has been the vehicle for virtually all of the duo's output, starts with a lustrous ode depicting the profoundly tranquil, endorphin-drenched afterglow of satisfying sex.
Normally, lyricist Difford's closely observed sketches are full of the debris of shattered hearths and broken trust. So a song like "Satisfied" makes the experienced Squeeze-watcher pause for a moment to wonder whether there's something sinister hidden under the song's blissful bed, some ironic flaw or weakness that's going to jump out and spoil the amorous couple's moment.
But according to Tilbrook, whose role in the partnership is to apply music to Difford's words, there is no hidden agenda behind "Satisfied."
"Although many people have written about love and lovemaking, Chris captured it quite wonderfully," Tilbrook said in a recent phone interview. "There's no element of tongue-in-cheek. It's a straightforward song."
As for Squeeze itself, satisfaction of the commercial sort has been fleeting in the American market.
The band had a streak of hits in Britain from 1978 to 1982, but they made less of an impression here (the band's early hits collection, "Singles--45's and Under," is a must for pure-pop fans). Difford and Tilbrook then disbanded Squeeze in 1982, made an album on their own, then reformed the band in 1985. In 1987, Squeeze finally reached a mass U.S. audience, scoring Top 40 hits with "Hourglass" and "853-5937," two soul-influenced songs from the album, "Babylon and On."
That, says Tilbrook, broke "(a pattern) we were all too familiar with, making a record we were pleased with but didn't do as well as we hoped."
The pattern reasserted itself again, though, as the follow-up album, "Frank," was a commercial flop. Tilbrook attributes its failure to internal upheaval at its record company at the time, A&M.
"It was very much a disappointment. We'd been in the situation the last five years, working to commit the band to something properly and tour behind it. When "Frank" didn't happen, we had to think long and hard about what we wanted."
Squeeze left A&M, issued a live album last year on I.R.S. Records as a holding action, and is about to return with "Play" (Reprise Records), a worthy example of the band's intelligent pop craft. As always, Difford and Tilbrook show that they are well schooled in their primary influences, the Beatles and R&B. The weave of elements is elaborate, but never cluttered, ranging from classical strings and regal keyboards to feathery, Wes Montgomery-style passages from Tilbrook, who doubles as lead singer and lead guitarist. For contrast, Squeeze turns to some simple, country-grounded balladry.
The paradise glimpsed in "Satisfied" doesn't last, of course. But along with the songs of marital strife that inevitably ensue, "Play" ultimately suggests that there is hope for people to sort out their relationships, repair the character flaws that undermine them, and attain a measure of order in daily life.
These days, Difford and Tilbrook are presenting new and old Squeeze songs in their simplest form as they tour as an acoustic duo. At first, Tilbrook said, the two songwriters were going to do a non-playing promotional jaunt to stir up interest in "Play," but they decided it would be more fun to bring their guitars and perform as an acoustic duo--something Tilbrook says they first did a few years ago on a brief tour. The full Squeeze band, with original member Gilson Lavis on drums, Keith Wilkinson on bass, and Don Snow as hired-hand keyboards player, is scheduled to tour in the fall.
Who: Difford and Tilbrook.
When: Thursday, July 25, at 8 p.m. With Jane Hardaway.
Where: The Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano.
Whereabouts: San Diego Freeway to the San Juan Creek Road exit. Left onto Camino Capistrano. The Coach House is in the Esplanade Center.
Where to Call: (714) 496-8930.