Saturday, April 07, 2012

Argybargy (1980)

Are you a Squeeze fan? I was infatuated with them in the early '80s. Argybargy was the first of their albums I knew and seems to be the place I turn when I'm in the mood, though it's arguable at least that East Side Story might be their best. The typical label applied is New Wave, and that's fair enough—it's basically primary colors, three-minute pop songs, and loose-jointed shuffle-dancing. This is the British flavor of New Wave, so there's a certain amount of bluesy pub-rock affinities lurking about as well (most concentrated in the person of keyboardist Jools Holland, whose only song here is "Wrong Side of the Moon"). Principal songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook reportedly worked out an eccentric strategy for concocting their tunes: Difford wrote the lyrics on his own—in the middle of the night, if I recall, later slipping them under Tilbrook's door (this started when they were roommates, evidently). Tilbrook then made the music. That probably accounts for the strange moods and travels of these songs, which do hit verse-chorus-verse marks but come across perhaps most forcefully as strange and gnomic, almost suffocating in a way. Consider "I Think I’m Go Go," which makes a hash of its arch ambience and musical gestures, finally turning into something that plays like a solo barbershop quartet part written for a zombie. Maybe that's not the best example—it's practically the novelty here, calling attention to itself by its dense and cheeky manner. I think I like it but I can see how someone might shrink from it. So consider the more obvious first single, which kicks off the first side, "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)." It's tuneful, fun to yelp with as you pick up the words; even as it moves about restlessly from one musical idea to the next some infectiousness keeps you faithfully in its tow. But pay a visit to its Wikipedia page and what do you find? Nineteen footnotes citing a dozen or more critics talking about an "observation of the British working class," clarifying that it's Difford's memories from a British holiday camp, pointing out that "pulling mussels" "is British slang for sexual intercourse." That seems to be an awful lot of exegesis for a #44 on the UK charts, but maybe that's just me. As pop music it dwells in a cerebral place. And I still can't figure out how much I like it or not—maybe that's exhaustion. It was in very high rotation at one point.

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