- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2007

As co-writers, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, founding members and guts of the British new wave band Squeeze, knew how to spin glistening pop gems that were both pleasing and durable. The melodic and lyrical fabric that makes up ditties like “Tempted,” “Goodbye Girl” and “Up the Junction,” for example, has stood up as well as a cool, vintage wool sweater zipped tightly in a garment bag.

As friends, however, the two musicians have struggled to make the best of an often-frayed relationship.

The band formed in 1974 — shortly after Mr. Tilbrook answered an advertisement he saw posted in a Blackheath, London, sweet shop — and released its self-titled debut full-length in 1978. This brought the group its first turn on the British charts with “Take Me, I’m Yours.”

“We went in different directions more or less from the time of that first album onwards,” says Mr. Tilbrook. “We had a relationship that was very close for our writing but not very close for our friendship; it went up and down, but it was not particularly up the whole time Squeeze was together.”

Musical highs were plentiful and came in the form of successes like 1979’s breakthrough “Cool for Cats,” 1980’s “Argybargy” (which helped the band register on U.S. radar), and 1981’s “East Side Story” (which introduced “Tempted”). On these and other records, Mr. Difford’s clever wordsmithing merged with Mr. Tilbrook’s catchy hooks to form nearly perfect pop compositions. Comparisons to Lennon and McCartney flooded in.

Behind the scenes, however, pressures related to touring, critical response and internal conflict (perhaps stemming from various addictions) mounted and split the band apart in 1982.

Although the central twosome continued to collaborate, they didn’t officially reunite the band until 1985. Amid changing lineups, they managed to “Squeeze” out a few more hits — like “Hourglass,” an MTV favorite from 1987’s “Babylon and On” — but eventually came to the end of their shared rope after 1998’s “Domino.”

In 2000, Mr. Tilbrook spread his artistic wings and released his first solo album, “The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook,” taking lyrical cues from his former partner as he crafted both words and music for the first time. By the time he followed up with 2004’s “Transatlantic Ping Pong,” he’d earned a reputation as one of the most delightful, innovative live performers around, owing to his distinctive and unchanging voice (the one that sang most of Squeeze’s hits), wealth of intelligent pop songs, gift with banter, and a tendency to take audiences for a walk around the block (literally) during the show.

In Squeeze, the artist says, “I felt like I couldn’t be myself in concert.” Conversely, on his own, he became “totally relaxed” in his “own skin.”

Mr. Difford also forged a solo route beginning with 2003’s “I Didn’t Get Where I Am.”

The two were estranged until music journalist Jim Drury provided a vital link that would help tie them back together. He worked with each artist independently on the biography “Squeeze: Song by Song,” and it was not only cathartic for the musicians, but eye-opening as well.

“When I read the book, I learned a lot of things about Chris that I didn’t know,” Mr. Tilbrook says. “Although it wasn’t instant that from that point forward, our friendship could begin to repair itself, that certainly is what happened.”

This spring, the British release of a new retrospective called “Essential Squeeze” and the announcement of plans to re-release the band’s back catalog finally brought the duo back into the same room. Initially, it was for promotional purposes; then, to discuss taking the show back on the road.

On July 14, Squeeze played its first gig since 1999, headlining England’s GuilFest. Currently, the group is nearing the end of a 12-date U.S. outing, to be followed by a string of European dates this fall.

Says Mr. Tilbrook, “It’s just so nice to get on. There’s no angst, no drama. That’s all so far away.”

The former songwriting team isn’t planning to release any new material at this point, but from Mr. Tilbrook’s perspective, it’s better this way.

With no forthcoming album to plug, he says, “You’re free from the baggage of thinking anything about the latest record and balancing the set. Actually, what we did [for the reunion tour] is just pick songs we fancied doing.”

After 30 years of playing the same crowd favorites, you’d expect the musician to secretly feel a little tired of playing some of the tunes in his repertoire. But, like his fans, he’s still enamored with them.

“I don’t have any problems with playing any of the songs from the past. I have to say also, I’m not sick of them. I sit down and listen to them at home, so when I play them, I feel brilliant about it,” he says.

Squeeze performs tonight at Wolf Trap (www.wolftrap.org) in Vienna. Big Head Todd and the Monsters opens the 8 p.m. show.

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