I’ve been a fan of Status Quo since “Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like” became a hit way back in February 1981, and received my first Quo album, “Never Too Late”, as an Easter present soon after.
I immersed myself in their already impressive back catalogue as quickly as I was able, bringing my collection to 14 studio albums plus the classic “Live!” double album and a fair number of 7″ singles as well.
Along the way since then there have been a further 17 studio albums, including the latest – “Aquostic – Stripped Bare”, a collection of 25 classic Quo tracks re-recorded with acoustic guitars rather than the trusty Telecasters.
So, how does this album stack up against the legacy? Perhaps that depends which type of Quo fan you are. There are those who dismiss anything the band has done since the departure of 1970s rhythm section – drummer John Coghlan left during recording sessions in 1982 and bassist Alan Lancaster followed in 1985 – and seem to view main man Francis Rossi in a very poor light. There are also those who prefer the Quo that has existed since 1986 with bassist John “Rhino” Edwards and successive drummers Jeff Rich, Matt Letley and latest recruit Leon Cave. Then there are those who love the band regardless of which rhythm section is performing and can appreciate the good, and the bad, in all the band’s recordings. I count myself firmly in the latter camp.
I have to say that, although I can see what they are getting at with the title of the album, arguably this is anything but Quo “stripped bare”, as there are ten additional musicians credited in addition to the five band members, and more instrumentation on the tracks than you would normally find with Quo tracks.
In terms of song selection, I find it slightly odd that we have 22 tracks spanning the 15 year period 1968 – 1983, and just 3 tracks covering the recording career of the “new” band, and then only covering the first 5 years, 1986 – 1991. Will there be a second acoustic album covering material from the past 24 years, I wonder?
The songs are presented chronologically, in terms of when they were originally released, with the exception of “Little Lady” and “Mystery Song”, which although listed as being in that order on the tracklist, and on the band’s website, are actually reversed as one segues into the other. The rest, however, are strictly chronological, which I feel makes the album feel more like a greatest hits type project, whereas had the tracks been mixed up more, as indeed they were when Quo performed them live at London’s Roundhouse for BBC Radio 2, then the flow of the album would have been improved.
In musical terms, the majority of the songs are in their familiar arrangements, with the addition of accordion, string section, extra percussion and backing vocals, which give many of the tracks a folky, cajun, singalong vibe – and are great for strumming along to with your guitar at home. “And It’s Better Now”, the single, is a fabulous version, and a definite highlight of the album.
There are a few more radical renditions though. “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”, although not hugely different in arrangement, has a lovely Beatlesque vibe with prominent string section. “Caroline” begins as a slow 12 bar shuffle, before switching to the more up tempo arrangement that we are used to. “Break The Rules” has a completely different guitar / harmonica solo passage (possibly because Rossi allegedly had problems recreating his original solo when the band added the song to their live set for a while around 2003). I like the quirky ending to “Again And Again”, and “Whatever You Want” has a percussion / strings intro.
The most different version though must be “Don’t Drive My Car”. One of my all time favourite Quo tracks, particularly in concert, this version has a completely different tone, which, although it won’t replace the original version in my affections, does definitely offer something new and unexpected.
Less successful, I feel are “All The Reasons”, which exposes the limitations in Rick Parfitt’s voice these days, and does nothing to improve upon the original recording. “Softer Ride”, which I have always loved, lacks the dynamic range, certainly from the version the band were performing in concert in the late 1990s.
One could argue that it may have been better had Quo approached this project in a similar way to Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged” album, and others like it, which would perhaps have given a more stripped back and bluesy vibe, with slower arrangements, than the cajun idea, and I suspect that there will be a fair number of Quo fans, particularly those of the “Frantic Four” who would have preferred that approach. Overall, though, I would say that this album is a very good addition to the Quo canon, and one that I would recommend without hesitation.
“Aquostic – Stripped Bare” tracklist:
1. Pictures Of Matchstick Men / 2. Down The Dustpipe / 3. Nanana / 4. Paper Plane / 5. All The Reasons / 6. Reason For Living / 7. And It’s Better Now / 8. Caroline / 9. Softer Ride / 10. Claudie / 11. Break The Rules / 12. Down Down / 13. Mystery Song / 14. Little Lady / 15. Rain / 16. Rockin’ All Over The World / 17. Again And Again / 18. Whatever You Want / 19. What You’re Proposin’ / 20. Rock ‘N’ Roll / 21. Don’t Drive My Car / 22. Marguerita Time / 23. Rollin’ Home / 24. Burning Bridges / 25. Rock ‘Til You Drop
1 originally from “Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From” (1968) / 2 originally a single release (1970) / 3 originally from “Dog Of Two Head” (1971) / 4-5 originally from “Piledriver” (1972) / 6-10 originally from “Hello!” (1973) / 11 originally from “Quo” (1974) / 12 and 14 originally from “On The Level” (1975) / 13 and 15 originally from “Blue For You” (1976) / 16 originally from “Rockin’ All Over The World” (1977) / 17 originally from “If You Can’t Stand The Heat” (1978) / 18 originally from “Whatever You Want” (1979) / 19-21 originally from “Just Supposin'” (1980) / 22 originally from “Back To Back” (1983) / 23 originally from “In The Army Now” (1986) / 24 originally from “Ain’t Complaining” (1988) / 25 originally from “Rock ‘Til You Drop” (1991)