The Last Temptation of Chris
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Reviewed by David Medsker
And you can guarantee that Squeeze’s principal songwriters Glen Tilbrook (high voice, melodies) and Chris Difford (low voice, lyrics) are…well, they’re not really doing much of anything to defend their legacy, except perhaps cash in on it one last time. At the moment, they’re touring the States as Squeeze (no other former members are involved), but once that tour ends, they go back to doing their own things. Tilbrook is readying his third solo album for next year, while Difford just released his third album, The Last Temptation of Chris. That’s right, Difford is doing absolutely nothing to promote his new album, instead choosing to hit the road with Tilbrook and play the “hits”. This must please his label greatly.
It’s a mystery why he’s downplaying the album. It’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s a poignant – if maudlin – pull-no-punches account of the mistakes Difford has made along the way, peppered with the occasional stop to smell the roses (also set to a melancholy tune). Difford was never an ornate lyricist; he’s always spoken in terms that anyone could relate to, which is a large reason for his appeal. Halfway through The Last Temptation of Chris, though, and you’ll be screaming for one of those bouncy choruses that Tilbrook once served up by the pound. Or possibly for Tilbrook to sing a line or two.
Difford wisely leads with the Squeeze-ish “Come On Down,” which details his off-and-on money woes (“She lent me so much money, I could have bought a yacht / But now I’m in the doghouse, I went and spent the lot”). Fans of Squeeze’s 1991 album Play will gravitate to this in a hurry, while “Labelled with Love” fans will feel instant nostalgia when they hear “Battersea Boys,” the true story of a boy whose parents abandoned him because he loved opera. (It was the ‘50s; apparently that happened back then.) It’s all pretty and well done, but even when he lightens the mood on “Fat as a Fiddle” or “Reverso,” which chronicles a man’s effort to undo his own vasectomy, Difford sounds as if he’s holding back a little, afraid that letting loose here and there would be disrespectful to the more serious subject matter like “Broken Family,” his open-letter apology to his children for not being there for them when they were young. Who knows, maybe that was the right decision, but it would have been nice to judge for ourselves.
It’s hard to kick a guy who has given the world so much good music, and there is enough to The Last Temptation of Chris to grant him a stay of execution. Chalk it up to lofty expectations in the end; not every Squeeze record was a classic, but they hit the target far more often than they missed it, and even their misses were buoyed by a healthy dose of enthusiasm. It is that lack of enthusiasm that proves to be the missing ingredient here. Maybe these dates with Tilbrook will inspire Difford to stir the pot a little more the next time.