The trouble with rock band reunions is that they promise the past but can only deliver the present. It isn't simply the ravages of time that keep such regroupings from satisfying -- no amount of enthusiasm or ability can overcome the expectations generated by a fan's memory. At best, the reassembled parts will come together in a convincing update, showing how the act, like its audience, has matured; at worst, the reunion becomes an exercise in self-parody, as what were once strengths are revealed as infirmities.
"Cosi Fan Tutti-Frutti" (A&M SP-5085), the album that brings Squeeze back together, tends more to the former. It doesn't, after all, try to sound like the Squeeze of old, for though the honey-and-vinegar harmonies of songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook are unmistakable, the band's sound has been almost completely reworked.
Jools Holland's barrelhouse piano, which gave the early Squeeze much of its pub-rock flavor, is gone; here, Holland goes heavy on the electronics, filling out the band's sound with semisymphonic bursts of synthesizer. More to the point, his playing is so completely integrated into the arrangements that he, like drummer Gilson Lavis, seems almost an anonymous presence. Ironically, the one instrumental voice that stands out belongs to bassist Keith Wilkinson, the only new member of the group, but whether that's due to his strength of personality or producer Laurie Latham's sound mix is debatable.
Not that it matters, because the members of this new Squeeze, who will be at DAR Constitution Hall Wednesday, are essentially bit players. The real focus is Difford and Tilbrook's tunes.
As always, the writing is extremely clever, but this time around, that's not an advantage. Some of the ideas repeat earlier songs -- "I Won't Ever Go Drinking Again" has its share of amusingly turned phrases, but in light of such back-catalogue items as "Slightly Drunk" or "When the Hangover Strikes," the jokes seem a little thin -- others simply don't go anywhere. Difford, the lyricist, has shifted his emphasis from sharply worded vignettes to puns and cheap irony, and while the latter adds a certain edge to "No Place Like Home," the former finds him hanging the whole of "I Learnt How to Prey" on a joke no listener could get without a lyrics sheet.
The music itself is more obvious, but not by much. As was the case with their post-Squeeze solo album, Difford and Tilbrook remain fascinated with dance music rhythms and extended instrumental passages. "Last Time Forever" seems to take an eternity getting to its verse, a bad sign for a band once celebrated for its economy, while both "No Place Like Home" and "Big Beng" are given unaccountably elaborate arrangements. It isn't as if the melodic ideas are being served by all this window dressing, either. There are some winning phrases buried in these songs, but they're barely noticeable through all the clutter.
Ultimately, that's the undoing of "Cosi Fan Tutti-Frutti," for as the album title itself shows, Difford and Tilbrook are so obsessed with their own wit that they've forgotten to make their well-polished gems mean anything. As a result, the record is an empty gesture, a reunion that doesn't pull anything together.
Kevin Godley and Lol Creme didn't worry about their ideas dominating those of their old bandmates from 10 C.C., in large part because the duo arranged its "reunion" album without the rest of that band. Rather than trying to recapture past glories, "The History Mix, Volume 1" (Polydor 825 981-1) takes a revisionist tack as Godley & Creme boil down old hits into what they call "Wet Rubber Soup."
The idea is ingenuous: With the help of studio wiz Trevor Horn, Godley & Creme disassembled, then scrambled, the tapes of the 10 C.C. tracks "Rubber Bullets," "Minestrone" and "I'm Not in Love." Then, using the editing techniques and digital synthesis Horn is famous for, the parts were reassembled into a sort of mega-mix. As composition, it's the aural equivalent of a music video, with a wide array of special effects fighting to draw the listeners' attention away from the song itself. As criticism, though, it's far more effective, since the endless gimmickry shows up just how slight the original songs were (in this mix, the core of "I'm Not in Love" is revealed to be the whispered "big boys don't cry").
No wonder, then, that the rest of the album, relying as it does on mere songs, seems flat by comparison. "Cry," the designated hit, is catchy enough, but basically hollow; the song begs for an explosive effect to rouse it from its slumber. But then, mere songwriting has never been this duo's forte, for Godley & Creme are at their best when they've got a gimmick. As such, it's best just to skip Side 2 of "The History Mix, Volume 1" and spend your time speculating on the wonders Volume 2 will doubtless bring.