Squeeze – Sweets From A Stranger (1982)
Squeeze’s fifth studio album is one that I’ve found a little more difficult to love than all of its predecessors, but it’s also fair to say that I haven’t given it as much time as other Squeeze albums I’ve enjoyed more since I first bought it back in 2009, so I’ve had to listen to it quite a few times over the past few days and, when you do give it more attention, it reveals itself to be a very good collection of songs, indeed. “Sweets From A Stranger” is nowhere near as instant as their fourth, “East Side Story”, is arguably the weakest Squeeze album to date (at that point) and a little too slick in the production, but many of the songs are much stronger than I first thought and, like many complex albums, repeated listening reveals many rewards.
There is one absolutely massive hit on here, one of Squeeze’s best known and loved songs, “Black Coffee In Bed”, which I love so much I could probably write a whole ‘blog post on; it is one of those irresistible combinations of a superb Difford lyric about a freshly single man enjoying his new life with one of Tilbrook’s most catchy and commercial white soul scores. When you listen to it, it is difficult to do anything but sing along to Glenn’s utterly brilliant vocals, grin with pleasure at the wonderful guitar solo and enjoy the superb Elvis Costello and Paul Young on perfect backing vocals. My copy (the 2008 re-issue) also contains the excellent “Annie Get Your Gun”, packed full of energy and melody. The other bonus tracks include the enjoyable “I Can’t Get Up Any More” and the brilliant “When Love Goes To Sleep”, a classy composition which has Abba-like keyboard touches and sounds, to my ears, like another hit that really should have been. “Last Call For Love”, which sounds very much like ELO, is also rather gorgeous, but also sounds slightly unfinished.
My favourite tracks on the original album are the Attractions-like “I Can’t Hold On”, the excellent, laid-back “Points Of View”, the smoky, jazz-influenced “When The Hangover Strikes”, “I’ve Returned”, which is surely one of the most overlooked Squeeze songs ever and should have been a single (it was released on 7”, but only in The Netherlands), “Elephant Ride” is a dreamy, discordant delight and “Tongue Like A Knife” is a great song with a slightly classical arrangement and an excellent Difford lyric. The less said about the rest of the tracks, the better; they range from the average (“Out Of Touch”) to the near-unlistenable (“The Very First Dance”). “His House Her Home”, for example, has great words, but is spoilt for me by the underwhelming music and a limp vocal. I prefer the “demo” version which is amongst the bonus tracks. So many of the songs were about break-ups, drinking and general unhappiness, so it isn’t difficult to ascertain what frame of mind the band were in at that point.
Squeeze, certainly Glenn and Chris, were slightly burnt out whilst making “Sweets From A Stranger”and, with A&M giving them a demanding release schedule to keep the momentum going, this album wasn’t quite as well conceived as it could have been, so it was no surprise that they split, temporarily, after this release. I’m sure the fact that it garnered the most lukewarm critical reviews they had ever received as a band didn’t help, either. To surmise, I have to concede that, although it isn’t a bad album at all, there are more than a handful of Squeeze albums better than their fifth and that, while there is plenty to like and love here, there are other Squeeze albums much more wholly enjoyable than this one. Still, this is Squeeze we’re talking about, so even their lesser albums are only lesser by their standards and any album with “Black Coffee In Bed” on it can’t be bad.