Record Review - 1 June 03 2004

We were Simon and Garfunkel, we were the Monkees, the Captain & Tennille, we were Lennon and McCartney, croons Chris Difford on his first solo album apart from his writing partner, Glenn Tilbrook. In one sentence, Difford both encapsulates and distances himself from his early career.

Through 12 studio albums and a 20-year relationship as songwriters of England’s Squeeze, Difford and Tilbrook were, if not quite Lennon and McCartney, at least the Becker and Fagen of pop punk. With smirking, often sexually provocative lyrics to “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” “Cool for Cats” and “Slap and Tickle,” the duo rode a moderately successful string of singles, peaking in the early ’80s.

Their two new discs, however, take radically different approaches. Time stands still on Tilbrook’s second release, Transatlantic Ping Pong, which seems like a lost Squeeze classic. His chiming, youthful tenor voice, sly words and playful knack for effortlessly snappy Beatle-esque melodies remains intact on a dozen sharp songs with instant appeal for the band’s old fans.

Sounding older and wiser, Chris Difford’s sober, often somber tunes shimmer with a relaxed Steely Dan sheen. He strips down his 1982 Squeeze track “Black Coffee in Bed.” Even the hum-along chorus on “Lamas Fayre” feels more like a wistful dream than a crowd-pleaser. Unlike his old running partner, Difford treats his musical past as something to escape rather than cultivate. Meditative and reflective, it’s the ying to Tilbrook’s yang.

Glenn Tilbrook plays Smith’s Olde Bar Wed., June 9. 8 p.m. $15.