SQUEEZE Big Squeeze The Very Best Of Squeeze (Universal Music TV/A&M)

From a distance this looks like a very promising package indeed. It contains everything once found on the band's fabulous "Singles 45's And Under" compilation, a smattering of songs bringing the story up to date from the 1982 cut-off point of the aforementioned release and a whole extra discful of b-sides. And those old songs are still wonderful, nuggets of casual brilliance all, that eagerly demonstrate how, their sometime producer Elvis Costello arguably aside, no one could touch them in the new wave kitchen-sink storytelling stakes.

The creaky keyboards and crude drum programming of "Goodbye Girl" still can't disguise the song's sheer brilliance (Squeeze as a synth-pop band? Could've happened!), whilst "Cool For Cats" and "Up The Junction" are the group at their absolute early peak: cracking lyrics, nagging melodies, all played, sung and produced perfectly. Amazingly, they managed to surpass even these high watermarks with "Tempted", featuring short-term member Paul Carrack on vocals, which has to be the ultimate song for yelling along with when alone in the car, genius white soul that, with the benefit of time travel and some nifty nip-and-tuck gender reassignment, could have been on "Dusty In Memphis". This song hasn't aged a second in 20 years; it's still immaculate. Even after Difford and Tilbrook seemed to tire of obvious melodies and hummable hooks they could still weave wonders like the six-minute songwriting masterclass "Black Coffee In Bed", a long sob of regret and regretting nothing, Dylan's "Most Of The Time" foreshadowed by a bunch of scruffy London boys.

Unfortunately, after a curiously out-of-chronological-order "Labelled With Love" and the band's first dissolution the quality plummets noticeably: the production is riddled with faddish 80s noises, the music less memorable. "Some Fantastic Place" redresses the balance somewhat, a song about the dear departed friend and lover who originally brought the songwriting duo together, which obviously holds a great deal of significance for them. "Electric Trains" might be warmed by the rosy glow of somebody else's nostalgia, but is pretty well done with it - "I played guitar and formed a band and puked up all night long"!

The b-sides CD begins badly with Jools Holland in full smuggest-man-in-rock effect on the tiresome patchwork collection "Suites From Five Strangers", and whilst the Starsound-inspired "Squabs On Forty Fab" muddley is mildly entertaining in demonstrating the surprising ease with which Squeeze's classic singles can be dovetailed together it has little shelf-life beyond its novelty value (consume before April 1982!). The remainder are more like proper Squeeze songs, except not as compelling as the main features. Nevertheless "Vanity Fair", an alternate version of the "East Side Story" album track, is somewhat more elegant than the rest.

A well-filled, if somewhat tacky and opportunist, with its flyers for Difford and Tilbrook's current solo activities, booklet completes the package. Copious sleeve notes from the duo a welcome touch; the desperate need for sub-editing and differentiation between the contributions of the two are not. Ultimately the sheer mass of "Big Squeeze" is what makes it the best Squeeze compilation so far: treat it as a reissue of the fabulous "Singles 45s And Under" with new packaging and 27 extra tracks and you won't be disappointed.