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Frankly, it's fantastic!
on 22 July 2013
Bit of a curious one, this album. It sold relatively poorly, leading to A&M dropping them from the label and yet it received quite a lot of critical acclaim at the time and, to me, it's one of their underrated gems. I bought it back in 2008, just after the remastered and expanded version was released on CD and so have an extra eight tracks in addition to the original album. The songs are really very strong, as both master wordsmith Difford and musical maestro Tilbrook are in great form. It was also piano and keyboard virtuoso Jools Holland's last studio album with the band, bringing his second stint to a close on a very positive note. The singles, "If It's Love" and "Love Circles" are excellent, the former having some very funny, touching lyrics about the giddiness of new love, backed by an upbeat, melodic, inventive piece of music, the latter being a beautifully bittersweet song about falling in and out of love and the regrets afterwards. In my opinion, it's one of their most overlooked songs, possibly because it's a Chris Difford vocal and has quite an understated feel to it, but it really is a very emotive and powerful composition.
Now, if this album was all about the singles and was full of filler, I could understand it being a commercial flop, but it's actually a superb album from start to finish. There are some songs that probably should have been singles ("Melody Motel" is one that springs immediately to mind) and it's brilliantly produced, with a very strong sound, leaving the softer synth sounds of the eighties well and truly behind. There are so many brilliant songs on "Frank". The loved-up "Peyton Place" has a jazzy, soulful feel to it and "Rose I Said" is classic Squeeze with superb, descriptive lyrics ("Yes I cried the moment that her hand slapped my face/A mouth full of sandwich went all over the place") about the protagonist caught cheating with the girl across the street, Rose. "Slaughtered, Gutted and Heartbroken" is deceptively upbeat, a jazzy little piece sung by Chris which tells a tale of heartbreak and rejection, "Melody Motel", as I mentioned before, is outstanding, a dark tale of deception and murder to the soundtrack of an upbeat country-rock foot-tapper and "Can Of Worms" is also utterly magnificent, with a sharply observed description of what it is like for a man coming into the life of a woman who has children and the awkwardness of certain relationships within that dynamic. The music is rather beautiful, too.
Jools Holland's showpiece, "Dr. Jazz" is good, although it sounds more like solo Holland than Squeeze and is almost out of place on the album (the catchy, up-tempo "Is It Too Late" which follows it gives it a little more context), but it does feature some really tasty work on the keys. Many of the bonus tracks also feature Jools' distinctive style and influence on the band, too. "Red Light" is a sultry jazz minor-key shuffle, "Good Times Bring Me Down", again, could easily be a Jools Holland solo track, with his superb piano taking centre stage on this rock 'n' roll/boogie-woogie instrumental and "Any Other Day" is a truly magnificent jazz/blues ballad. All of these tracks would have enhanced the original album, but would definitely have given it an entirely different character. "Who's That" is a nice composition, performed with just piano and vocal and "If I'm Dead" is like the zombie version of "If It's Love", with a slightly disjointed feel. The other tracks are all decent additions to the disc, as well and, quite unusually for an expanded release, there is nothing I'd rather hadn't have been included.
To surmise, I'm rather taken aback that this isn't generally considered one of Squeeze's best and that the lack of interest in it led to them having to seek a new record label. Whilst I wouldn't go as far to say that it's their best album bar none, it's certainly amongst their best releases and it boasts the songwriting team of Difford and Tilbrook at their collective and individual best. Other, lesser, bands would sell their own Grandmothers for songs as complete and as superb as these and yet, at the time, "Frank" was all but ignored. Maybe they were, as my own Grandmother used to say, "too clever for their own good", but I've never really understood that phrase, just as I don't understand why, in 1989, the world wasn't falling to its knees in admiration of the boys from Deptford. To be frank, I never will.