After 30 years producing finely-crafted pop vignettes with Chris Difford and Squeeze,...
Chris Jones 2004
After 30 years producing finely-crafted pop vignettes with Chris Difford and Squeeze, Glenn Tilbrook's got nothing left to prove. Before you even put Transatlantic Ping Pong on the CD player you KNOW it's going to be packed with neat tunes, tasteful harmonies and lyrics that tell real stories of real people. The good and bad news is, of course, that there are no surprises here. It's good because, with a writer and performer of this stature, fans of Squeeze or just good old Beatlesque pop will be right at home. Bad, because quality has never been a guarantee of success and this is an album low on gimmicks.
True, there are small elements of modernity creeping into the mix. Beat box rhythms keep the production crisp and metronomic while his subjects could only exist in this day and age. And what subjects! In the great Deptford kitchen sink tradition these are everyday tales writ large. Glenn writes about middle-aged failure, domestic violence (''Hostage''), childhood friends (''Ray and Me''), AIDS (''There For Her''), familial break-ups (''Domestic Distortion'') and err...onanism (''Reinventing The Wheel'').
His voice hasn't lost one iota of its youthful appeal. It's still as sweet as it was in 1978 with ''Untouchable'' and ''Neptune'', in particular, sporting irresistible choruses, though one occasionally longs for the growling counterpoint of old mucker Difford. A gimmick or two wouldn't actually hurt but it's a shame that the latter song relies on the hackneyed 'Uranus' joke.
The only real downside is that all the sweetness gets a little too glutinous at times, and sometimes the tunes fall short of the lyrics (especially on the wildly hyperactive ''Hot Shaved Asian Teens''), resorting too often to anonymous funk. Also ''Untouchable'' sounds more like Tilbrook aping Neil Finn when, by rights, the New Zealander owes the Londoner a huge debt of gratitude. It's a bit like John Lennon doing a song that sounds just like ELO.
In this day and age this level of craftsmanship can seem like connoisseur's stuffonly. But Transatlantic... can still proudly take its place next to all those other great shiny pop moments that he's given us over the years. Let's just hope enough people listen...