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STATUS QUO AND 'THIRSTY WORK'
Released in 1994, this was Status Quo's fifth album since they got back together in 1986. In my view and in that of a lot of other veteran fans, the first three of these had definitely been below standard, not to say among the least satisfactory they ever made. (On second thoughts - the first two dreaded cover version albums were probably the worst - even they more or less disowned the lame, plodding 'Famous In The Last Century' themselves). They redeemed themselves in 1991 with the harder 'Rock 'Til You Drop', a definite return to form. 'Thirsty Work', which followed three years later, didn't quite maintain the improvement. While there were plenty of flashes of the old heads down hard rock boogie, some of it was a little bland, and some uncharacteristically poppy. Even so, it worked - in a way.
Let nobody say that all Quo songs sound the same, and let nobody say that they don't come up with plenty of catchy songs. Most of this album was self-penned, with front man Francis Rossi having a hand in the majority of them. The mid-tempo 'Goin' Nowhere' has a ridiculously commercial guitar and keyboard hook, with one of those tunes that will stay in your head for ever if you let it.
But if you want that good old driving Quo sound which they made their own twenty years earlier, 'I Didn't Mean It' is the one. The album's first and most successful single (No. 21), written by John David who penned several of their other hits, it's not the best they ever did, but if you love 'typical Quo', you'll enjoy this, if you don't know it already.
And did they ever do anything more infectious than 'Confidence'? It's not typical of the group, but you can forgive them almost anything when they come up with a goodie like this. If you had stuck them in the Eurovision Song Contest at the time, pre-bloc voting, with a song like this they would have probably wiped the floor with everyone else. There's also a line in the bridge that sounds uncannily like the Beatles 'You're Gonna Lose That Girl' (from the 1965 movie 'Help!').
'Point Of No Return' is back to the bouncy, pop-boogie sound, with the icing on the cake being a few seconds of accapella singing near the end. I could bracket that with the next two numbers, the jaunty 'Sail Away' with its ultra-cheery keyboard intro and singalong mood similar to the 1983 hit 'Marguerita Time', and 'Like It Or Not', which plods a bit though is enlivened the guitar break. They're OK, but a bit Quo-by-numbers. They've done it all before previously, but better.
Luckily they redeem themselves after that with the more aggressive, hard-rockin' 'Soft In The Head'. Even better is to come on track No. 8. Rick Parfitt is absent from the composing credits throughout, but it sounds like he is handling lead vocals on 'Queenie', one of several written by Rossi and longtime songwriting collaborator Bernie Frost. This is a blast, the closest thing to good loud what-the-hell rock'n'roll, and what it might lack in subtlety it more than makes up for in atmosphere.
You couldn't get more of a contrast on 'Lover Of The Human Race'. It's one of those dark, sombre, 'In The Army Now'-type numbers, with slow, portentous keyboards and a decidedly downbeat Rossi lyric. Sample:
"Flat broke, empty house, ice cold, hand to mouth we're getting
Cracked up, gone to seed, blindly following politician's lead
Oh well, I never really knew my place
I was a nuclear waste of space
Now I'm a lover of the human race"
It's certainly different. And you thought Leonard Cohen was doomy?
'Sherri Don't Fail Me Now!', the second single (peak position No. 38) rivals 'Confidence' as the most poptastic number here. Some critics have called it lame, other love it. It is rather bubblegum-like, but very commercial and once again might have been a good Eurovision candidate.
Like 'Queenie', 'Rude Awakening Time' is one of the few out-and-out rockers, with a drive, even a bit of a snarl, missing elsewhere, and the guitar packing a punch as of old. That's maintained on 'Back On My Feet', which may not have the same snarl, but still boasts plenty of energy, and a more than worthy guitar solo.
'Restless', the third single (peak position No. 39), was evidently put out as a riposte to all those who used to say that 'Quo singles all sound the same'. Written by Jennifer Warnes, it's a ballad driven by tinkling electric piano chords, and it's oh so very pretty indeed. Remember 'Thank Your Lucky Stars', a horribly mawkish ditty by Dean Friedman, top three in 1978? This, I'm afraid, is very similar. Personally, I don't think Quo do 'pretty' that well, and I nearly always skip this one. Thank goodness for the next song, 'Ciao-Ciao', which restores the balance in favour of the rock style.
Then it's back to rather bland pop for the unexceptional 'Tango', and after that 'Sorry', another written by Rossi and Frost, which was originally created for a 1980 album by Demis Roussos. File under 'cheesy Europop ditties'.
The 16-track release originally appeared in 1994, and the following five songs were added to the 2006 reissue. If you're planning to replace the old with the new, particularly if ordering online, make sure you are sent the expanded model.
'Survival', 'She Knew Too Much', 'Tossin' And Turnin'', and 'Down To You' all follow the broadly similar pattern, combining pop and a bit of boogie. The last song on the collection, 'Beautiful', is almost that - a slower, more anthemic song on which you can almost visualise scarf-swaying crowds. Nice, but no more than that really.
If you're looking for a good Quo rock album with that old supercharged animal excitement, you're better off with the 1970s and early 1980s product. But if it's a more pop or easy listening Quo with a few handfuls of that tried and tested air guitar material you're after, this isn't bad. 76 minutes playing time represents good value, the best of the pop tunes are very good indeed, and in its defence it must be said that some of the other stuff doesn't sound like Quo at all, Francis Rossi's unmistakable vocals excepted. (I'll concede that 'Restless' will have its admirers). For my taste, Rossi's production is much too sparkly clean on the whole, though that may not be a bad thing for some listeners. To quote the chorus of an early Rolling Stones number, I'm just sitting on the fence. While it's not the worst album they ever made, in my list of Quo albums you should hear ranked in order, it would be rather a long way down.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]