A Quixotic Venture: Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook Goes Solo

On Glenn Tilbrook's solo debut, "The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook," via his own Quixotic Records, the former Squeeze frontman sings about going it alone in today's marketplace: "I'm pushing out the boat/

On Glenn Tilbrook's solo debut via his own Quixotic Records, the former Squeeze frontman sings about going it alone in today's marketplace: "I'm pushing out the boat/Calling in every favor to keep it afloat ... I know it's a changed world ... I'm running a small shop/In the age of the global superstore."

That song is titled "G.S.O.H. Essential" -- after the headings in the personal ads that call for a "good sense of humor" -- with the idea that a light heart is necessary in a world where thinking-man's pop is a challenge to purvey and boutique labels have a tough row to hoe.

The 44-year-old Tilbrook has enviable energy and enthusiasm for his maiden solo voyage and his Quixotic label venture, which he formed in '98 to issue Squeeze's last album, "Domino." Yet measured expectations suit his experience. Despite "spending nothing to promote it," Tilbrook says, "Domino" was "the first Squeeze album since 'Cool for Cats' in '79 to turn a profit. I knew then that, with hard work, small could be possible, could be good."

As far as competing in what some perceive as a younger man's game, Tilbrook says, "I realized something playing with people like Keith Richards recently: Even though they're infinitely more successful than I am, they are people just like me, who live to play music at whatever age. And while I'd love to be the musician of the moment on everyone's lips, being on just a few people's lips is pretty great. It was a tremendous relief to realize that."

Issued in May by Quixotic London in the U.K. (via RMG), "The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook" arrives in stores today (Aug. 28) in the U.S., where the disc is manufactured and marketed by the Boulder, Colo.-based What Are Records? and distributed by that firm's At-Source Distribution arm. The album addresses such touchy subjects as middle-aged dignity both in love and onstage, with the sort of subtle wit and sublime melody that have endeared Tilbrook to Squeeze fans since the British band's bow in the new-wave London of 1977.

Tilbrook was Squeeze's music director, serving as lead vocalist, lead guitarist, and main composer across the band's various incarnations and 13 albums. But the outfit's smart, sly lyrics -- as lauded as its irresistible tunes -- were the work of Tilbrook's ace foil, Chris Difford. The prospect of penning lyrics to measure up spurred a bout of writer's block, which Tilbrook only overcame after ameliorative co-writing with the likes of Ron Sexsmith and Aimee Mann. That said, though, the most well-wrought words on the new set ended up being Tilbrook's alone.

Squeeze came to an end when Difford, a family man, grew evermore reluctant to tour. "At a certain age, gigging loses its luster for many musicians," Tilbrook says. "I'm the opposite: I quite enjoy it, as long as it's part of writing songs and making records. Making this solo record reminded me of the first three Squeeze albums, before we settled on a sound. The blank canvas was frightening but exciting."

An album highlight is the lead track and first U.K. single, the buoyant, touching soul-pop of "This Is Where You Ain't," penned wholly by Tilbrook. Key songs "One Dark Moment," "Up the Creek," and "Interviewing Randy Newman" were likewise solo creations. Of the collaborations, the second U.K. single and first U.S. release, "Parallel World" (written with Chris Braide), has already become a favorite in Tilbrook's solo acoustic shows.

Produced with former Robyn Hitchcock collaborator and "Babylon and On" -era Squeeze member Andy Metcalfe, "The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook" showcases the charm of the singer's ageless choirboy tenor, as well as a sense of sonic adventure. Guitar in hand, Tilbrook is crossing the globe this year to play the new material alongside such Squeeze classics as "Tempted," "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)," and "When the Hangover Strikes." The evergreen quality of those songs was emphasized at two sold-out shows at New York's Mercury Lounge, where between numbers the good-natured Tilbrook could barely get a word in over the avalanche of requests.

Following up spring U.K. and summer U.S. dates, Tilbrook tours Australia in September, with further U.K./U.S. dates planned for November. While on his recent stateside trek, he did a yeoman's round of radio promotion, performing live on the air for shows from KBCO Boulder's local "Studio C" to WXPN Philadelphia's nationally syndicated "World Cafe" (the latter of which should air in weeks to come).

Visitors to glenntilbrook.com or quixoticrecords.com are kept well-informed about Tilbrook's activities, and North Americans can buy his new disc direct from war.com. According to GM Ted Guggenheim, W.A.R.? plans an array of Internet-related promotions.

Returning to the impetus of "G.S.O.H. Essential," "The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook" does face its hurdles. "These artists -- the Tilbrooks, Elvis Costellos, Nick Lowes -- are between a rock and a hard place," says Allen Larman, head buyer at the Rhino Records shop in Los Angeles. "They don't fit into any one media format -- are they adult-oriented, alternative, what? But having created durable bodies of work, they've made a real name for themselves with hardcore music fans. And those are our staple customers. The word will gradually get out on Glenn's record, because it's a good one."