Never mind all the timeless melodies Glenn Tilbrook’s written: Anyone who can rhyme the name Persephone with “incessantly” deserves immortality for that alone.
By Brett Milano
“This song’s about a guy who’s about 57, and he’s cheesed off at the world,” announced Glenn Tilbrook as he took the stage at the Brighton Music Hall Tuesday night. “Not me, it must be some other bloke.”
Best known as the singer/guitarist in Squeeze, and the guy who writes the music to Chris Difford’s words, Tilbrook is indeed 57 and has been around a few blocks by now—but no, he doesn’t seem like the cheesed-off type. His show this week was as casual and friendly as it gets: He played two solo acoustic sets and hung out in the audience between them, wearing a well-worn blazer jacket and torn-kneed bluejeans. Tilbrook has the right to gripe about not drawing bigger crowds if anybody does: The Music Hall was barely half-full, and do you really know anyone who doesn’t like “Up the Junction” or “Pulling Mussels From a Shell”? No complaints this night though, as Tilbrook came off like a guy who gets to do a job he loves. And besides, he’s got something many of his contemporaries would kill for: The very same choirboy voice he had at age 25. And now that he’s shaved off the Colonel Sanders beard of recent years, he doesn’t look much different either.
Squeeze of course still exists, and last played Boston at the Pavilion two summers ago. For longtime fans though, the band’s latest reunion has been a bit frustrating: Back together five years and they haven’t done a new album yet; their live setlists tend to feature their 1981 greatest-hits album (Singles: 45’s and Under) and little else. Tilbrook solo has made two albums in that time—the newest is Happy Ending, released last week—and onstage he’s more inclined to go deep into the Squeeze catalogue. Three songs into Tuesday’s set, he pulled “Letting Go” off the flopped album Play (1992). A deep-blue ballad about the dying stages of a relationship, it’s one of the band’s saddest songs, but a beauty. Another lost gem, “Tough Love” (from 1986’s Babylon & On) is about an abusive relationship. Difford’s words find sympathy for both partners, and Tilbrook sets it to a reassuring waltz. Tilbrook seemed out to demonstrate there was always more to Squeeze than the droll-humored pop songs–though he still played plenty of those, including the other obligatory hits: “Tempted,” “Take Me I’m Yours” and “Another Nail in My Heart.”
He also drew from his solo catalogue—and since he did everything but write lyrics in Squeeze, the big surprise was that the best parts of his solo songs, mainly written without help, are the lyrics. Most of the Happy Ending tracks are character sketches with the subject’s name as the title: “Ray” (about that cheesed-off middle-aged guy) and “Persephone” (about a free spirit that he met at a pop festival during the ’70s) were effectively bittersweet, and “Still” celebrated a longrunning relationship without getting mawkish. And never mind all the timeless melodies Tilbrook’s written: Anyone who can rhyme the name Persephone with “incessantly” deserves immortality for that alone.
Brett Milano has been covering music in Boston for decades, and is the author of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martins, 2001) and The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). He recently returned from New Orleans where he was editor of the music and culture magazine OffBeat.