THE ALBUM -- Squeeze, "Argybargy." A&M Sp-4802; THE SHOW -- At the Bayou, May 5, 8:30.
How to get a grip on Squeeze, the new wave band playing at the Bayou on Monday. They're the latest hip quintet out of South England to invade Washington with all the requirements for a punk band: fast-paced songs with osbcure meanings, unsettling guitar riffs, ill-fitting suits and funny haircuts. Their main distinction is that their lyrics are more obscure than most.
The jabberwocky starts with the title of their latest LP, "Argybargy" -- British slang for a barroom ruckus. Actually it's a controlled rock effort, commenting on young love, "Separate Beds" and holiday misadventures. It's the tough-to-dicipher words, posing as avant-garde poetry perhaps, that will compel or confound listeners.
On one impressive track, "I Think I'm Go-Go," they offer a crazy salad of international cultural references on the theme of "the world's got smaller": Buckingham Palace; rodeos; Strauss. All this plus lavishly arranged strings and synthesizer vying for the limelight with somber percussive touches.
Another cut broaches the subject of abortion, but discreetly. "Each morning she got sicker / Her mother sometimes hit her / If she'd have known the story / She would have been so sorry." The rhymes are consistently jarring: "Although she's only fourteen / She really knows her courting."
The musicianship is varied, sometimes tedious but occasionally allowing pretty harmonies to shine through. Traces of sweetly sentimental vocals in the Paul McCartney vein are evident, despite the uncertain lyrics. The tune that's easiest to like, "Wrong Side of the Moon," even lapses into a surprising "pop" feel, with goodtimey piano, drums and backup vocals.
Perhaps the best cut is "If I Didn't Love You," an accusatory love song of unrequited love. The tune makes a quick break from dark, phychotic chorus to free-floating guitar solo, and goes on to sing of sexual frustrations:
If I didn't love you
I'd hate you
I'm playing your sterogram
Singles remind me of kisses
Albums remind me of plans...
Where do they all come from, these British new wave bands? For a while there, it seemed that record execs were signing contracts with anyone off the street who had a guitar, cropped hair and a skinny tie. But Squeeze is a likable, even interesting entry in the increasingly crowded field. Compared to most, it has a long track record: The nucleus of the group has been together since 1974 and this is its third (strange) album.
Chances are you won't love it unless you're already hooked on new wave. But you certainly can't hate it if you're open to today's rock sounds.