I always approach any new Status Quo compilation with trepidation. It’s a tough audience to deal with anyway, because for every die-hard, denim-clad, dedicated Quo fan, there is some nay-sayer holding their stripped-down basic boogie in derision. The band went through a period at the end of the last century, where their seriously hard-rocking credentials drifted dangerously close to self-parody; it was almost impossible to find their classic albums anywhere – instead, the shops stocked compilation after compilation, each claiming to hold the definitive history of the band. It’s not as if Quo weren’t selling; although the classic Frantic Four line-up had disintegrated, leaving Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt as the core, their matey, south London banter presented a glorified party band, an image that sold jolly, catchy singles by the barrow-load, but held no credit with the serious rock community.
Francis Rossi told me once, in reference to the definitive, career-spanning 3 CD retrospective they had out at the time, “They’re always definitive, aren’t they? I’ve done a few of these interviews today, and the first guy said, do you think we need another one? And I said no, not really… I would like to say they shouldn’t do it, but it’s their prerogative to do it, and it’s in all the contracts.”
However, there is a difference with this new compilation, and it’s a big difference. Quo’ing In – The Best Of The Noughties, restricts itself to music the band has produced since 1996. That means you don’t have to endure half a CD of their early, psychedelic, 1960s pop. You also don’t get any of the barnstorming classics from their early ‘70s heyday, that you know inside out anyway. Happily, neither do you get any of the party hits that surrounded the break-up of the classic line-up, no Marguerita Time or those diabolical Anniversary Waltz medleys. You don’t get the Frantic Four at all – every note is from the reformed band, and as such, it’s a tempting curiosity. Old-school fans who have resisted picking up any of the new stuff, out of fear or indifference, must be curious to know if the old-timers can still whip up a beat.
And I’m here to tell you – yes they can! Actually, there’s some well decent stuff on these two discs. (There is an optional, live, third CD for the real hard-core fan, but that’s up to the whim of the buyer. Although while we’re on the subject, the voices are as good as I’ve ever heard them on that set, especially Rick’s – just saying).
I might quibble about the name – to me ‘the noughties’ was a single decade that lasted from 2000 to 2009, not the 25+ years covered by this album. This retrospective comprises mostly tracks from Under The Influence (1999), Heavy Traffic (2002), The Party Ain’t Over Yet (2005), In Search Of The Fourth Chord (2007), In The Army Now (2010), Quid Pro Quo (2011), Bula Quo! (2013), the brace of unplugged Aquostic albums from 2014 and 2016, plus a few wildcard non-album singles and rareties. Strangely though – and I’m not sure why they did this – while it utterly eschews any input from the two covers albums that came out early in the new century, it includes a couple of covers from the Don’t Stop set way back in 1996. But it bravely kicks off with a 2022 remix of the title track from 2019’s Backbone, the first album the band put out after losing the late, lamented Rick Parfitt in 2016. This is not an extensive reworking, it really is a remix in the traditional sense, with a bit more mid-range punch and immediacy; an improvement on an already decent number in my book.
It can be seen from the list of album titles above that the band still weren’t taking themselves that seriously as the new millennium clicked around – obviously there’s some decent material on each album, but for my money, the band weren’t back with a vengeance until 2011’s Quid Pro Quo, and its manic single Two Way Traffic, with its “Work work, busy busy, bang bang, 25 hours a day,” opening lyric. “That was a great track – a f*cker to play live,” as Rick once told me, an absolute hard-rocking head-banging tune in the best Quo tradition. Fortunately, it is included here.
OK, I’m not going to claim that every song on the disc hits a coconut, but there’s an interesting game you can play – if we pulled the actual best songs from this modern collection, could we put them together on to a mix tape that would rival the classic albums? Could we create Hello! again? Or On The Level? I reckon CD 1 hits a purple patch about halfway through that actually has some of the best Quo tracks ever, well up to the mark of those hallowed vinyls. This winning run starts with Liberty Lane from Backbone; nothing new there, but a pretty decent rocker. This is followed by Jam Side Down – yes, I know, this one comes straight from the Marguerita Time school of nursery rhymes, but it’s a jolly ditty, and one of my favourite ear-worm Quo singalongs. But after that we have Running Inside My Head from the Bula Quo soundtrack, a great rocking song with a little Buddhist ‘ting’ running through it. Electric Arena from Fourth Chord is a nice, slow blues, not maudlin but tasteful, then Twenty Wild Horses from Under The Influence, a great, rocking work-out with one of Rossi’s set-piece fast jig guitar lines. Blues And Rhythm is another decent rocker from Heavy Traffic, which actually sounds better in this company than it does on its so-so, original album setting. And then, to top it off, Gotta Get Up And Go from The Party Ain’t Over, a chugging juggernaut that might be one of the best Quo tracks ever – it builds to a storming guitar solo at the end, and it rocks like hell, with a pin-sharp, tight ending. Beautiful.
Some of the highlights on the second CD (sub-titled Quo’ing Out), are from the Aquostic project: their unplugged versions of Pictures Of Matchstick Men, That’s A Fact and Down Down are all great versions, but just for a bit of fun, they kick off this disc with three covers of their own songs: 2022 re-recordings of Caroline, Paper Plane and Rockin’ All Over The World, and none of them let the side down.
This disc includes a lot of single-only releases, and bonus tracks that appeared on later deluxe versions of their albums. They decide to include all four bonus tracks from the 2006 re-issue of Don’t Stop, three of which are Quo originals – one of them, Tilting At The Mill, is another great addition to their repertoire, a good-time, jolly rocker to start with, but halfway through it morphs into a driving bit of metal reminiscent of Rain, with a properly decent, aggressive solo. Goodness knows why they buried that one for so long.
Look, I’m not saying that you should immediately go out and buy all those albums that you missed from the last 20 years. But if you still gaze fondly at your well-thumbed and faded copies of those classics from the Vertigo years, and sometimes wonder why no one makes music like that any more, perhaps you should stick your hand in your pocket and stump up for this one. You’ll get a whole lot of decent Quo you might not have realised existed. And you don’t have to play the Christmas single at the end of CD 2 if you don’t want to.
Graeme Stroud is the author of Status Quo – Song By Song, published by Fonthill Media