Squeeze – East Side Story (1981)
Squeeze’s fourth studio album was planned to be their most ambitious, a double album with each side of the vinyl LP produced by a different person. The four people were Elvis Costello, Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe and Paul McCartney. What eventually happened was a single album, mostly produced by Elvis Costello and Roger Bechirian, with one song, the cheerful album opener “In Quintessence” produced by Dave Edmunds. In retrospect, “East Side Story” was probably a much better finished product than the double album originally planned, as the single disc just about has enough top-notch material to ensure this is an almost entirely brilliant album. Had they stretched it out, perhaps it would be regarded as less of a success than it was. “East Side Story” is further notable for being their first album without Jools Holland and, instead, had Paul Carrack on keyboards and, famously, on vocals for the magnificent “Tempted”.
The major highlights of “East Side Story” are the superb singles. “Tempted” is one of the finest songs Difford and Tilbrook have ever written, four minutes of absolute genius where the protagonist gets used to his newly found option after becoming single. Everything about this song is perfect, Carrack’s vocals, Elvis Costello’s two line cameo, the gorgeous organ, bass line and the fantastic Chris Difford lyrics where he, as always, makes the ordinary extraordinary. “Is That Love” is a supremely catchy track where the romantic notion of love is cynically dissected. The line “My assets froze while yours have dropped” always raises a smile. “Labelled With Love”, delivered like an plodding old country and western song, is the superb tale of the back-story behind an eccentric woman and the poor existence she is barely living. It’s beautifully human.
It’s not just about the singles, though. “In Quintessence” is full of Difford double entendres, “Piccadilly” is a cracking song with humorous lyrics focusing around a date, a curry and a bit of stealth sex with Mum sleeping next door. “Someone Else’s Bell” is a depressing tale of a couple having meaningless affairs because of the sorry state of their own relationship, but it makes for a fine song. The classical leanings of “Vanity Fair” make this story of a woman with nothing to offer other than looks underline the sad tone of the subject matter and “Messed Around”, which was released as a single in the USA, is a pleasant piece of gentle rockabilly and ends the album with a whimper rather than a bang. The majority of the album is really very good indeed, the only track which falls a little short is “F-Hole”, where the dreary music lets it down a little. One of the songs from the Nick Lowe sessions, “Looking For A Love”, is a bonus track on the edition of “East Side Story” I own and it’s a great song, but it’s also a cover of a 1962 single by The Valentinos (featuring a young Bobby Womack). The other bonus track, “The Axe Has Now Fallen” is a Difford/Tilbrook original, is absolutely excellent and should definitely have made it onto the album, in my opinion.
One of Glenn Tilbrook’s major songwriting strengths is that his music seldom goes in the direction the listener expects it to. His unconventional melodies, chord changes and major/minor shifts make his musical compositions compelling and always interesting to a musical mind tired of formulaic songs. It does, however, mean that listening to Squeeze albums can be hard work sometimes and can often take a good few listens before all of the tracks can be fully appreciated and enjoyed. I have personally found this true of “East Side Story” and it has taken me a good half a dozen listens to really “get” all of the songs. It’d be difficult to say that this was their singularly greatest piece of work, because much of their early work is superb and very accessible, however this is certainly amongst the best albums of their career and I’d recommend this one highly for anybody wanting to carefully venture beyond owning just a greatest hits collection.