[Review] Squeeze: Sweets from a Stranger (1982)

A box of chocolates with a surprising number of sour quince logs.

Kronomyth 5.0: Lemon and McCartney.

After Argybargy and East Side Story, to say I was looking forward to the new Squeeze album would be an understatement. But where I felt like a kid in a candy store on their last two albums, I felt like a fly on the wall of an A.A. meeting on Sweets from a Stranger. Maybe the Lennon-McCartney comparisons had created too much pressure, or maybe Squeeze was following the then-popular compunkshun of artists like Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson to play pop for adult tastes (a tin pan renaissance of sorts). Whatever the reason, Sweets from a Stranger was a disappointment; not Goodbye Cruel World bad, but the end of an era I wanted to last forever.

That’s not to say you won’t find any treats on Sweets. I’ve Returned and I Can’t Hold On would have felt at home on their last two albums. The Elephant Ride and Points of View got plenty of spins on my turntable. Even Black Coffee in Bed, an obvious attempt to write another hit single in the style of “Tempted,” is still a great song. But there’s too much turbulence on this record. I could afford the band a few experimental songs like “F-Hole” and “There’s No Tomorrow,” not half an album. In between are songs like His House Her Home and Tongue Like a Knife that manage to be clever and listless at the same time.

Despite a rise in their commercial fortunes, the chemistry in the band was beginning to sour, with Don Snow melting back into the musical landscape and John Bentley driving off the page into a different book. The band’s decision to break up at the end of the year just as they were just turning the corner in the United States felt like a punch in the gut… followed by a kick to the crotch as Difford and Tilbrook released an even worse album under their own names in 1984.

Honestly, I don’t believe Squeeze is capable of making a bad album any more than Elvis Costello is. Still, I wish every album could sound like East Side Story or Armed Forces. In retrospect, the Lennon-McCartney comparison may have been a curse. And the band clearly needed a vacation; it’s too bad they didn’t take one before Sweets and not after.

Original elpee version

A1. Out of Touch (3:50)
A2. I Can’t Hold On (3:34)
A3. Points of View (4:13)
A4. Stranger Than the Stranger on the Shore (3:18)
A5. Onto the Dance Floor (3:38)
A6. When the Hangover Strikes (4:31)
B1. Black Coffee in Bed (6:12)
B2. I’ve Returned (2:36)
B3. Tongue Like a Knife (4:10)
B4. His House Her Home (3:25)
B5. The Very First Dance (3:18)
B6. The Elephant Ride (3:23)

All selections written by Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford.

CD reissue bonus tracks
13. I Can’t Get Up Anymore
14. When Love Goes to Sleep

The Players

John Bentley (bass, backing vocals), Chris Difford (guitar, vocals), Gilson Lavis (drums), Don Snow (keyboards, backing vocals), Glenn Tilbrook (guitar, vocals) with Del Newman (orchestral arrangements), Elvis Costello (backing vocals on B1) and Paul Young (backing vocals on B1). Produced by Squeeze and Phil McDonald.

The Pictures

Cover photography by Mike Putland. Cover design by Squeeze and Simon Ryan.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in May 1982 in the UK (A&M, AMLH-64899), the US and Canada (A&M, SP/CS-4899), Australia (A&M, L-37848) and Japan (A&M, AMP-28056) with lyrics innersleeve. Reached #37 on the UK charts and #32 on the US charts.

  1. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc and cassette in 1995 in the US (A&M, CD/CS-3254) with 2 bonus tracks.

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