Hooks, harmony, and heartbreak

Squeeze and Crowded House reunite
By BRETT MILANO  |  July 25, 2007

072707_inside_SQUEEZE

Squeeze and Crowded House weren’t just two of the finer pop bands on the charts during the mid ’80s — they were virtually the only bands (save for the studio-bound XTC) who regularly brought Beatles-rooted hooks and harmonies to commercial radio and MTV. Both broke up around the same time (Crowded House in 1994; Squeeze, after a longer run, in ’97), and a happy coincidence finds their reunion tours hitting the Pavilion within four nights of each other — Squeeze on August 1, Crowded House on the 5th.  Squeeze also play the Cape Cod Melody Tent July 31. Both, however, are hitting town with altered lineups, having weathered some tough times on the way back.

Heroin addiction, alcoholism, neurosis, friends at each others’ throats . . . all the things you’d expect to encounter in a film about Metallica. But in the story of a generally cheerful pop group like Squeeze?

According to the recently published UK biography Squeeze: Song by Song (credited to Difford & Tilbrook with Jim Drury, published by Sanctuary), that’s indeed how it was. The book reveals that pop masterpieces like 1980’s Argybargy and 1982’s East Side Story (both A&M) weren’t made without major stress. Singer/guitarist/composer Glenn Tilbrook and guitarist/singer/lyricist Chris Difford were, respectively, into heroin and cocaine during the early ’80s; Difford fought an alcohol problem for many years afterward. The two friends’ love/hate relationship also caused several dark patches — Squeeze’s up-and-down commercial fortunes didn’t help either. Difford and Tilbrook have now revived Squeeze with semi-original bassist John Bentley and two members of Tilbrook’s solo band, keyboardist Stephen Large and drummer Simon Hanson.

Fans might not have known there was so much intrigue behind the scenes. “I didn’t know either,” Difford said by phone from London recently. “Glenn and I were interviewed completely separately for the book — we didn’t know what each other were going to say. That’s how we found out, for instance, that we didn’t like each other’s wives. We were completely honest, and honesty pays dividends. We both needed to vent our lives out, and when we read the book it was the beginning of us coming together again.” The pair’s relationship hit its nadir at the start of Squeeze’s last tour in 1997. Having recently taken control of his alcoholism, Difford was having anxiety about going on the road. Barely 24 hours before the first show, he decided he couldn’t go through with it, left a message for Tilbrook at the airport, and went home. (Tilbrook and the remaining members soldiered through that tour, which hit a half-full Avalon.)

“It’s a cliché to say that life’s a journey, but it is,” Difford says now. “At that point I was in the middle of the woods, not knowing which direction to go in. I absolutely felt like I did the right thing, but I did it in the wrong way. Glenn is a really understanding person with a lot of love in his heart — it would have gone differently if I’d learned the art of communication and we’d sat down and discussed things. I don’t think I’ll ever make up for the cruel way that I left him to turn the lights out. Maybe by doing this tour, I can have one way of saying that the music still means a lot to both of us.”

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