A greatest hits package posing as a mind game, Spot the Difference does fulfill its basic description, giving Squeeze fans a chance to catch the variations between some old songs and their newly recorded versions. But the real concept here, which seems to suggest at least some semblance of transformation, is only sketchily fulfilled. The renditions are spindly, stripped-down adaptations of the originals, the only main difference being the more-ragged tinge of Chris Difford’s voice.
Those expecting radical compositional departures and swerves in style, like those found late last year on Tom Waits’s great Glitter and Doom Live, may be disappointed. As it stands, the device behind the album feels mostly like a promotional trick, a thin guise for another favorites collection, but it’s admittedly a pretty good one, and the faithfulness presented here may be for the best. A chillwave cover of the venerable “Pulling Mussels from a Shell” could be a far worse proposition than the version here, which is barely distinguishable from Argybargy‘s 1980 original—like most of these songs, only a little rougher around the edges.
What Spot the Difference does achieve, like most good collections of this kind, is to remind us why we enjoyed this band in the first place. And in reproducing their songs in this fashion, with a built-in imprecation to analyze closely for amendments, Squeeze forces us to reconsider them. A track like “Tempted,” which has languished for years in TV commercials and classic-rock radio limbo, becomes, if not new, at least somewhat fresher upon real study.
There are new touches here, like more fleshed-out backing vocals, but the best details to be discovered in this process are not necessarily tweaks, but things that have been there all along. This craftily breaks through the sheen of overexposure that dominates certain hits, while forcing engagement with less familiar ones. The game at the core of Spot the Difference may be mostly meaningless, but it tricks us into a different kind of comprehension, granting a new face to songs that now no longer seem as stale.