The Meaninglessness of Popularity: A Review of Frank by Squeeze
The Mob really has no idea. The Mob is swayed by advertising, by reputation and by precedent, but not by reality. Not like you and me. It reacts to itself following complex dynamics that are hard to predict and don’t make much sense. Take popular music. Most of it is appalling; and it always has been. Bad songs in the top ten is not unique to any decade. The sixties might have seen the Who, the Kinks and (if you like that sort of thing) the Beatles, but it also saw the Archies.
In 1987 Squeeze, a British Pop (in the good sense of tuneful guitar music with smart lyrics) group hit the top forty with Babylon and On, an album of light-weight pop, mostly pretty vapid, with very 80’s instrumentation. As usual with Squeeze the tunes were there, but apart from the brilliant ‘Lighting Matches’ the album is pretty ordinary.
The follow-up, though, was 1989’s Frank, and it’s a peach. Tuneful, varied, replete with nifty, tasteful guitar work and the usual Squeeze lyrics about getting drunk, letting people down and cheating on your girl, it is easier to list the songs that don’t work (‘She Doesn’t Have to Shave’, a rather naff tale about her time of the month and ‘Can of Worms’ an earnest but awkward tale of broken homes and new men around the house). Against those two you can list, well, everything else. Personal favourite is probably (today) ‘Slaughtered, Gutted and Heartbroken’ but ‘(This Could Be) The Last Time’ comes close. There seems to be a slight Stones-y homage thing going on, with that track an explicit copy of a Stones song-title, and ‘Melody Motel’ sounding in title (not in music) a little like ‘Memory Motel’.
It contains ‘Dr Jazz’, a rare non-Difford/Tilbrook track that is a highlight of the album, with Jools Holland celebrating the music he loves, ‘Love Circles’ and ‘If It’s Love’, two typically tuneful Squeeze non-hit singles, and the rollicking yet grim ‘Melody Motel’.
The album seems to be modelled on East Side Story, the band’s acknowledged classic (it even finishes with a fifties-ish romp, same as the older album), but stands completely on its own.
And charts? Frank bombed. The best Squeeze album since their early days when they nearly became really big, it disappeared without a trace and cost them their contract with A & M.
I’m sure the money that comes with popularity means something to a musician with kids and a mortgage, but it correlates negatively with quality, if at all.
File under ‘no turtles were harmed during the making of this album‘.