Squeeze

Frank

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Squeeze finally had a big hit with 1987's Babylon and On but its 1989 follow-up, Frank, was its better, a superior showcase of their strengths as a band and Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook as songwriters. Despite the success of Babylon and in particular its punchy hit single, "Hourglass," Squeeze decided to scale back the sound of Frank, moving away from the glassy, cavernous Babylon -- a production immediately evocative of its times -- in favor of a relatively unadorned, clean sound, one that highlights the crispness of Difford and Tilbrook's songs and Squeeze's interplay. Both are crucial to the success of Frank, feeding off of each other in a way that none of their previous records quite showcased. Early peaks like Argybargy and East Side Story had depth and energy, but Frank has a quiet, lived-in confidence, never drawing attention to Tilbrook's melodicism, Difford's sharp lyrics, or the group's warm, sympathetic interaction, particularly the easy-rolling keyboards of Jools Holland. Jools departed after Frank, so it's appropriate that he's given a sendoff in the form of his original New Orleans jump blues "Dr. Jazz," a friendly, rollicking rocker that fits in nicely with Difford and Tilbrook's pop, which never strays far afield from their signatures, whether it's the bright, effervescent "If It's Love," the sly bid for feminine sympathy "She Doesn't Have to Shave," the tongue-in-cheek shuffle "Slaughtered, Gutted and Heartbroken," or the cheerful country two-step "Melody Motel." The songs may be recognizably within the duo's comfort zone but they're pushing just beyond it, notably on the intricately structured "Peyton Place" -- whose instrumental bridge is another fine spotlight for Jools -- and the cascading "Love Circles." Even these songs feel relaxed in a way Babylon and On never did -- indeed, it's remarkable that Squeeze aren't shooting for another big hit just after "Hourglass" -- and that's what makes Frank so quietly enjoyable: it's a modest record with Squeeze doing what they do best, which is plenty good indeed.

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