For 25 years, Chris Difford was the quiet half of the songwriting duo in Squeeze, rarely singing but writing nearly all of the band's lyrics. So when Glenn Tilbrook, Difford's old songwriting partner, dropped a solo album with an unexpected amount of lyrical complexity, the burden was on Difford to reply with a disc that matched the melodicism of Tilbrook's. And I Didn't Get Where I Am succeeds, frankly, by sounding nothing at all like Squeeze. Instead of rehashing the quirky lyricisms that defined that band's brand of Brit-pop, Difford opts for a smoother, gentler, decidedly more adult and nuanced feel. The material is ballad-heavy, owing more to James Taylor than the Beatles, and Difford's vocals -- which were always hoarse, bassy, and uneasy on Squeeze albums -- instead sound warm and inviting. The best moments are when Difford switches into full ballad mode, such as on the oddly affecting gay love song "Cowboys Are My Weakness" ("Some say I make a good straight gay man" he offers in the liner notes) or the lilting "For a Change." There's also a fascinating take on Squeeze's "Electric Trains," where Difford restores the country-rock arrangement from his original demo. Part of the credit is due co-writer and producerFrancis Dunnery, whose even and warm production adds a glow to the disc. But what truly makes I Didn't Get Where I Am so interesting is that it's entirely unexpected, that even very few dedicated Squeeze fans realized that Difford had this type of record in him. And while it sounds nothing like the music he's known for -- it's hard to believe this is the same man who sang "Cool For Cats" -- it's extremely welcome nonetheless.
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When Glenn Tilbrook released his first solo album about two years ago Squeeze fans wondered what would happen to Chris Difford. Tilbrook's songwriting partner sang fewer songs with each successive Squeeze album. His rhythm guitar playing, backing vocals and literate, witty lyrics were the only signs he was still in the band he co-founded. I Didn't Get Where I Am is a stirring surprise. While it lacks some of the snazzy Motown and power pop influenced material we've come to expect from the songwriting duo, it has considerable melodic punch and better vocals than any Difford recorded with Squeeze. Nearly every song is a gem and, if it drags a bit in the middle, Difford closes the album with a touching ode to his deceased parents. Not exactly what you'd expect from a veteran of Squeeze. Difford's fine album promises much bigger and better things in the future. With word that a Squeeze reunion might be a possibility in 2004, perhaps Difford's confidence as a vocalist will bring something new to the band's sound. Either way, If you combine the best tracks from Tilbrook's The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook and Difford's I Didn't Get Where I Am, you'd have the best Squeeze album they never made.
This is a must-own for Squeeze fans. The same goes for Tilbrooks solo CDs, but this one much more so. The solo albums are a chance to break down the two halves of Squeeze's creative talent for closer examination. The Tilbrook albums still SOUND like Squeeze, and the lyrics by and large are Diffordesque, if not up to Difford. But this Difford album does not sound like Squeeze at all. Mainly this: It is a very melancholy album. There is none of Tilbrook's pop exuberance. At points, it's downright lugubrious. The tunes are very good, but not Tilbrookesque at all. Has Difford's music always been this sombre in spirit, only it was offset by Tilbrook's tunes? There's something to that, but there's more going on here -- something I havene't heard other reviewers comment on. This is a very personal CD, more obviously so than Difford's Squeeze lyrics. And there are two big themes here. The breakup with Tilbrook is one. Only one song is unambiguously about Tilbrook -- No Show Jones. Are others? Could one or more of the songs ostensibly about romantic relationships gone sour also be in fact or also somehow about the breakup with Tilbrook? Two things force consideration of this possibility. One is the opening lines of No Show Jones: "What is fate that made it happen? ... The day we met, our loneliness was lost; all gone." Two is also the second main theme of the album: Difford, perhaps in a late and painful realization, is gay. "Cowboys are my weakness." Now back to No Show Jones: "We were the Captain and Tennille." And of course the title must be a tribute to Tilbrook, the liner notes notwithstanding. Moreover, this sends us back to Tilbooks solo CDs, and we find a bitter and rather nasty reply to this CD in "Neptune" on "TAPP": Your folksy noodling has petered out, it didn't raise pulses or your bank account," followed by a reference to Difford's liner notes: "You thanked me for turning out the lights, well thanks to you maybe you were right... oh! here you come now, where are you coming from now? Uranus and I'm here in Neptune." The song ends by leaving the door ajar, but this was a bitter breakup between two men who had a deeper bond than a merely professional one. Best friends? More? Friends on one side, more on the other? The listener can only guess, but all this sure does make these solo albums very interesting indeed. (Then there's the song on Tilbrook's TAPP with lyrics by Difford: Difford's apology or is he make Tilbook say it?) I have never fully appreciated what a subtle artist Difford is until this album. It is also very nice to hear Difford provide his own coloration for his music. His singing has never been this assured. He's a more flexible artist than I had given him credit for, and as much as I miss Squeeze and hope they can make new music, I really hope that Difford continues his solo career. I've said this is a must-own for Squeeze fan, but this CD stands very well on its own. It's charms weren't as obvious to me as good Squeeze, but it gets under your skin and stays there.