CHRIS DIFFORD "South East Side Story" Luna Records
SQUEEZE SONGWRITING collaborators Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford have each pursued a solo career after the longtime new-wave group's final breakup in the late 1990s. While Tilbrook has released several solo albums of new songs, Difford has taken a different tack, following up his 2003 debut with "South East Side Story," a collection of covers . . . of Squeeze material.
The album is more innovative than it sounds: Since Difford didn't often sing lead in Squeeze, his lower, rougher voice instantly removes some of the songs' original brightness. Furthermore, rather than Squeeze's distinctive keyboard-driven pop sound, Difford presents these 10 tracks with slower, sparser and twangier arrangements. The new approach successfully rejuvenates some of the group's best-known singles: Instead of its original carefree groove, "Tempted" drips with sorrow, and its chorus of "tempted by the fruit of another" sounds more like a confession than a celebration.
Stripped of its boisterous keyboards, Squeeze's first single, 1978's "Take Me I'm Yours," turns into an eerie torch song when Difford's whisper is paired with Dorrie Jackson's delicate moan. Although Jackson's vocals do add a softness to these covers, she seems little more than a Tilbrook substitute on more fast-paced numbers such as "Slap and Tickle." Despite being such an obvious trip down memory lane, "Story" feels more like a fresh beginning for Difford than a nostalgic last gasp.
-- Catherine P. Lewis
Appearing Wednesday at Jammin' Java and Thursday at Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis.