When I was writing up my favorite records of the year, I was still undecided on the latest from Squeeze. Since then, I have seen "The Knowledge" pop up on a few other "Best of 2017" lists, so I thought I'd go back to the record and give it another ride. I've listened to it twice in the last week and while there are songs that I truly love, like last week's Song Of The Day, "Patchouli" and "Please Be Upstanding," for starters, I realize what is giving me a hard time. It doesn't sound like Squeeze, or at least the Squeeze that has been a favorite band of mine from their debut in 1977.
Difford and Tilbrook's vocals, with their patented high/low octave lead is still there, and that is an essential part of Squeeze's sound, but like the last record, "Cradle To The Grave," which I did finally grow to love, "The Knowledge" has a sheen to it, almost like a new facelift, with bigger production values, instrumentation that veers from the norm of Squeeze's classic records, as well as other vocalists being featured. None of this is a bad thing, especially when the songwriting is still as wonderful as ever. It just feels like I am listening to another band altogether that just happens to employ Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook.
This reminded me of when I first heard Tom Waits' "Swordfishtrombones." Initially, it was painful. What happened to that piano playing balladeer from "Closing Time?" In less than ten years, Waits had almost completely reinvented himself. The songs were still heartbreaking, only now, instead of being sung, they were being smashed in my face with a rake. It took a few more records, first "Rain Dogs," which eased up just slightly with the bullhorn/sandpaper/calliope instrumentation, and then "Frank's Wild Years," which piled it on heavy. But, I was won over.
Are there other artists whose transformation from their debut has been so dramatic? I'll admit, the difference between Squeeze's first and last record isn't quite as shocking as the difference between Waits' first and most recent, but I still don't hear much of "Argybargy" on "The Knowledge."