Roundly regarded as Squeeze's grand masterpiece, in its planned incarnation East Side Story was going to be much grander: it was designed as a double-album with each side produced by a different musician, all a forefather of a different aspect of Squeeze. Dave Edmunds and his Rockpile cohort Nick Lowe were both contracted, as was Lowe's main producing success story Elvis Costello, and then Paul McCartney was slated for a side, but as the sessions started all but Elvis and Edmunds pulled out, with Dave only contributing one track. Costello was enough to make a big, big difference, helping to highlight a band in flux. Jools Holland left the group after Argybargy, taking with him a penchant for boogie-woogie novelty tunes. His replacement was Paul Carrack, veteran of pub rockers Ace who gave Squeeze another lead singer with true commercial potential -- something that Costello exploited by having Carrack sing lead for the brilliant piece of blue-eyed soul, "Tempted" (Costello and Glenn Tilbrook sneak in for the second verse). "Tempted" was a misleading hit -- at least it was a hit in America, where it turned into a '80s standard -- in that it suggested Carrack was a larger presence in the band than he really was, yet it also suggested the richness of East Side Story, and in how the band's music deepened and found a sympathetic producer in Costello. Far from reprising his skeletal, nervy production for The Specials, Costello smoothes out the lingering rough edges in the band, giving them a hint of gloss that has more to do with its new wave era than commercial considerations. One thing that is missing is the frenzied beat that had been Squeeze's signature throughout their first three albums: despite the echoey rockabilly of "Messed Around" -- if you didn't check the credits, you'd be sure this is Edmunds' production, but he was responsible for tightening up the almost ideal opener "In Quintessence," which strangely enough sounds like Costello's 1981 album, Trust (it really was an incestuous scene) -- this isn't a rock & roll album, it's a pop album through and through, from its sounds to its songs. It's bright, colorful, immediate even when things get ambitious, as they do on the dense, grandly psychedelic "F-Hole," which is cleverly deflated -- musically and lyrically -- by its juxtaposition with "Labelled with Love," a lazy country-rock stroll that doesn't seem out of place among the rest of the clever, immaculately constructed pop songs. Instead, it acts as further proof that Difford and Tilbrook could write and play almost anything at this point: they perfected their barbed, bouncy pop -- best heard on the single "Is That Love," but also "Someone Else's Heart" and terrific, percolating "Piccadilly" -- but they also slowed down to a hazy crawl on "There's No Tomorrow," turned intimate and sensitive on the jangly "Woman's World," and crafted the remarkably fragile, Baroque "Vanity Fair." All this variety gave East Side Story the feel of the double-album it was originally intended to be and it stands as Squeeze's tour de force, the best pop band of their time stretching every one of its muscles. [The 1998 U.K. reissue contained two bonus tracks: "The Axe Has Now Fallen," whose bright beat can't mask its bitterness, and a pretty good cover of the pop-soul standard "Looking for a Love"].
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine