Squeeze are famous for being cheery blokes. Friendly, affable, seemingly always up for laugh. Definitely guys to head down to the pub with. When I finally got to see them live in Manchester in 1988 the show was everything I’d hoped for and more. The band and the fans interacted like long lost pals. I even got to meet them after the show and they chatted with me like a neighbour in the street. What more could I ask for? Well, as a political scientist by trade, I’m always impressed when popular culture icons use their fame to draw attention to politics. And that’s what Squeeze does with their brand new single and EP of the same name Food for Thought.
Now, this is not the first time the band have gone political. In 2016 the band amended the lyrics to their song “Cradle to Grave” to defend public housing and embarrass the Conservative Prime Minister when he rubbished the welfare state on a BBC chat show they were both appearing on. And the band’s early work was notable for its ‘kitchen sink drama’ themes that focused on the plight on the working class, most notably on tracks like “Up the Junction” from Cool for Cats (which took its name from Neil Dunn’s 1963 novel) or “Separate Beds” from Argybargy. But as band member Glenn Tilbrook relates, “I had my head up my arse for a good deal of time as far as politics was concerned. I was blissfully unaware of the impact of stuff on people, I was in my own little bubble of success.” Now the band returns to social commentary, giving voice to the growing sense of anger with the state of economic inequality in present day Britain. In interviews accompanying the new EP Tilbrook is pretty clear where he stands. “[Politicians] just look the other way. I’m fed up with it. I think a lot of people are. Most of us have more empathy than that. But we’re driven by a hard-right ideological government that can’t see that, which makes me very fearful.” The EP will raise funds for food banks but the lyrics to “Food for Thought” suggest that Squeeze’s political critique goes far beyond charity.
As an EP Food for Thought is basically a glorified single, showcasing a new song and then offering new recordings of older songs and a few live recordings. The dour “The Very First Dance” from 1982’s Sweets From a Stranger gets an uptempo reinvention while “Electric Trains” from 2008’s Ridiculous is given a breezy redo. Live tracks include “Slap and Tickle” from Cool For Cats, “In Qintessence” from East Side Story, and “The Day I Get Home” from 1991’s Play. And these are great. But what about the new song? People, it’s up to the band’s very highest standards. Musically “Food for Thought” harkens back to the band’s late 1980s poprock sound on records like 1987’s Babylon and On, perhaps a bit less new wavey than their early records, less rootsy than post 1990s material. The track is deceptively peppy but lyrically moving in naming the struggles so many are going through and relentless in its critique of those responsible.
These four lines really capture this dual focus:
Pay less taxes ditch red tape
Cosy contracts for their mates
Cutting help right to the bone
Empty stomachs freezing homes
In speaking to the motivation behind the song Tilbrook eloquently captures what is and isn’t going on: “The social security system was set up to save people who didn’t have work, and now people are earning wages and it’s still not enough. More and more people are being pushed into a position they have no control over. With more austerity on the way and interest rate rises, it’s going to get worse.”
I’ve loved Squeeze for more than three decades, ever since I heard “Another Nail in My Heart” on Vancouver’s CKLG back in 1980. But I’ve never been more proud of them, turning their talents on this new song to rally listeners to attend to the great political crises of our time. Do your part, get your copy of Food for Thought now and go see the band if you’re lucky enough to live where they’re taking the tour.