Longtime fans might be tempted to overanalyze Spot the Difference, the latest effort from Squeeze, wherein the brainy British outfit has re-recorded repertoire classics like "Goodbye Girl," "Slap and Tickle" and "Take Me I'm Yours" and now dares listeners to tell them apart from the originals. But don't, warns Glenn Tilbrook, who's reunited with on-again/off-again co-frontman Chris Difford for a current retro-themed world tour. It's not some lofty concept piece.
"This is about us trying to regain control over part of our past, and it wasn't even intended as a record," he says. "We would love to have control of our own back catalog, but we don't, and Universal doesn't want to talk to us. And as a touring band, we could make more money with it than they can, because this is the part of our past that most people know about."
The combustible duo of Difford and Tilbrook first started performing together back in 1973, but disbanded twice, in 1984 and 1999, before reconvening again in 2007. Wanting a greatest-hits document to sell at shows, they signed to a small London independent, Anchor and Hope Music, and began reinterpreting their own library.
"But what became apparent, the further we got into the project, was that the songs couldn't be anything other than proper versions," says Tilbrook, who recruited members of his side project the Fluffers for Squeeze, Mach Three. "And then you have to put your heart and soul into them, just like you've already done, which is really hard work. But when you get the sounds and performances right? Well, from the original version to the newer version, there were times during the mastering when I couldn't tell which was which. And that was a really lovely moment for me, because it said we'd succeeded."
As a vocalist, Tilbrook admits that he was tempted to strip down early New Wave-ish numbers from quirky sets like Argybargy and Cool for Cats, but he restrained himself. Eventually, however, creativity won out, and Squeeze started tweaking certain arrangements. "We let go of the concept slightly," he says. "It was like, how often will we get the chance to rewrite history? It was like saying the assassin's bullet did actually reach Hitler and he died in 1944 — wouldn't that have been great?" In this parallel universe, he adds, "On "Black Coffee in Bed," I can actually sing it properly!"
In keeping with the vintage theme, Squeeze will be selling reproductions of their old T-shirts on tour. And he and his songwriting partner are having a blast this time around, Tilbrook is pleased to report. With three solo albums under his belt, he "could walk away in a second if it ever got anything like it used to be — I'd be out the exit door, double-quick. But it's not like that — we're enjoying it, we're having fun, and we're sounding really good."
Despite their schisms, the band was recognized in 2008 with a prestigious Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. Tilbrook was duly dazzled. "It was the first award of any kind that I've ever had, so I was very grateful for it," he notes. "But I've never needed that sort of thing to sustain my self-belief. I've always had a very strong work ethic and a very strong feeling that if my records don't sell, then the rest of the world is wrong!"