- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chris Difford

The Last Temptation of Chris

Stiff Records

Chris Difford wrote the lyrics, played guitar and sang backup for Squeeze, one of the great power pop bands of the 1970s and 1980s. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with the British new-wave period can reel off a list of the band’s hits, including “Tempted,” “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” or “Black Coffee in Bed.”

But aside from the occasional lead vocal - such as his exaggerated cockney croak on the oddball track “Cool for Cats” - Mr. Difford’s uninflected baritone functioned primarily as a shadowy ground throwing into bright relief the breezy, boyishly appealing tenor of his songwriting partner.

On the uneven “The Last Temptation of Chris,” Mr. Difford shows off a slightly more impressive vocal range. His voice is airy and wistful, like an exaggerated whisper. It lacks the raw power of Glenn Tilbrook’s, but it’s well-suited to many of the small, meaningful stories he tells on this solo album.

Where Mr. Difford’s lyrics for Squeeze traded in characterization, irony and biting humor, on “The Last Temptation of Chris,” the best songs traffic in more personal and deeply felt emotions. “On My Own I’m Never Bored” is a song about a young boy who prefers the solace of solitude to the hot-and-cold affections of a dysfunctional family. Mr. Difford sings, “On my own I know I’m safe/ I have no need to misbehave/ Deep within I have a faith/ That keeps me tuning in.” It’s a sweet but mournful number sung against a steady, rhythmic acoustic guitar that is leavened with little flourishes of organ and electric guitar.

“The Other Man in My Life” kicks off with a twangy electric guitar and soft drums. It’s an odd song - a wry but authentically sympathetic ode to cuckoldry. Mr. Difford sings, “I’ve never seen how he feels/ But I know how much he hurts.”

The opening track, “Come on Down,” is the most like a Squeeze song in both sound and subject matter. The first-person story of a man whose relationship is strained by his own crushing financial debt feels like a slow-motion sequel to “Up the Junction,” a song about a man whose love of pubs and strange women costs him his wife and daughter. With Squeeze, Mr. Difford brought a certain elan to his tales of desperation. “Come on Down,” by contrast, is merely desperate - right down to the play on words in the title, paying pointless tribute to “The Price Is Right.”

Another topical song, “Fat as a Fiddle,” feels forced and overreaching.

The best songs here have an intimate feel. Mr Difford has always displayed a peculiar talent for packing a great deal of complexity and story into a three-minute pop song. He succeeds in this on a few tracks. But he falls short just as often, straining too hard for a hit.

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