By Dave Thompson
The Frantic Four. Has there ever been a more reliable benchmark? Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan… yes, they were Status Quo between 1970 and 1976.
But they were also the most reliable quartet in the business, at least so far as the British boogie was concerned. And if the British boogie was ever a force to be reckoned with, then it’s all down to the efforts of the Frantic Four.
“In My Chair,” “Caroline,” “Down Down,” “Break The Rules,” “Paper Plane”… Quo’s foes (of whom there have always been a few) sniffily insist that their songs all sound the same, and the funny thing is, a lot of the time they do.
That, however, is also what made them so great. You knew where you were with a Quo record. “Piledriver,” “Hello!,” “Quo,” “On The Level”… whether you liked, or even heard them, they represent a run of records that so thoroughly epitomizes early-mid 1970s rock that you can forget giving them a spot in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. The Frantic Four should be given their own country. We will call it Quodonia, and you really ought to visit.
They have a roadhouse.
They also have two live albums. Three if you count the one from late 1976, when the Four plus two, pianist Alan Bown and old chum Bob Young, taped the shows that became the ‘Behemothic Live’ — whose reissue, in a four disc box packed with two additional period concerts, really ought to be more exciting than it actually is.
It isn’t, though, because we have the original live album already, and the other two aren’t half as good. One’s a middling Japanese promo, the other’s a ropey sounding Australian bootleg. Fans have had them both forever, and casual ears probably won’t play either more than once. You do get a nice booklet-and-bumph, but you ought to save your money for….
Well, there’s the faintly groan-inducingly titled “Aquostic: Stripped Bare” (Eagle Rock Entertainment), across which the present-day line-up take off their clothes… really! An we have the album cover to prove it (and the promo shot — see above). Take off their clothes, switch off the electric, and get dynamically unplugged with their back catalog.
Which survives the experience and comes up smelling of surprisingly sweet roses. So accustomed, are we, after all, to the prototypical boogie of Status Quo that it’s difficult to imagine them any other way. But if Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt had been brought up folkies… okay, maybe that’s not the correct analogy, because even on acoustics, Quo still rock till they drop. But twenty-two tracks pack some magnificent surprises, which itself is surprising when you think how many times we’ve heard these songs all before.
Yes, it’s the greatest hits in their birthday suits, and they sound as fabulous as they ought to, But they may not quite sound so fabulous as… this!
Another new release. But this time it’s spread across four sides of virgin vinyl, a traditional double live album, just like they used to make back in the day. Loud, proud and echoing still to the roar of the crowd, “The Frantic Four’s Final Fling – Live At The Dublin O2 Arena” (Eagle Rock Entertainment) catches the classic Quo’s reunion at, indeed, its last stand… a bookend, then, for last year’s “Back 2 SQ.1 – The Frantic Four Reunion” CD which captured a London show at the end of the quartet’s first spate of concerts in March 2013.
And you know what’s great about the two separate packages? You get the same four dudes playing the same set of songs… in not quite the same order, but close enough, and close enough, too, to the double album’s worth of songs they served up on the 1976 “Live” album too. Forget deja vu, this is deja woooooooooooooo… and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Side one rounds up some preparatory gems: “Backwater,” “Just Take Me,” “Is There a Better Way” and “Blue Eyed Lady.” Side two boasts what modern promo describes as the deep cuts. Trendy-ese for what we used to call album tracks. “ Little Lady,” “Most of the Time,” “Railroad.”
On side three, “Oh Baby,” “Gotta Go Home” and “Big Fat Mama.” And then we’re into the final stretch, and the most thrilling side four of the year. It all wraps with an hypnotically grooving “Bye Bye Johnny,” the ultimate Berry-ism in its absolute form.
Play favorites with that lot, baby. Or don’t. Just play them. Crank up either last year’s show or this year’s bash, or line them up one atop the other, and has there been a more exquisite distillation of l’essence du Quo?
Because there’s more. “In My Chair,” the hit that reinvented the band from the picturesque matchstickable two-hit wonders of fond psych regard, riding a riff that is such an old friend that you cannot help but grin gormlessly as you recognize it.
“Down Down,” the band’s first UK number one, forever lifting you up up. “Rain” to make the sun shine. “Caroline,” for whom night time is the right time. They all have exactly the same effect, and you have to commend the creators of these albums for so gallantly holding back on the hits. Status Quo have had 64 of the things since 1968, and the Frantic Four ratcheted up a fair few of those.
Only four of them are here, though, and you want to know why? Because even the tracks that weren’t 45s were monster hits in Quodonia, from the all-but anthemic “Forty-Five Hundred Times,” to their trademark-establishing, blueprint-nailing vision of Steamhammer’s “Junior’s Wailing”… and on even unto the garishly and so misleadingly monikered “(April) Spring Summer and Wednesdays.” With a title like that, it should be a Paul Simon song. But the moment the chug-a-chugga guitar steams in, you know it isn’t.
And then there’s “Roadhouse Blues,” which they borrowed from the Doors, but which they wound up making completely their own. And there really aren’t many bands, or Doors covers, that you can say that about.
No matter that roadhouses have never been a familiar flash on the British motorway landscape; nor that Quo probably wouldn’t have recognized one if they’d been booked to play a tour of the things. The quintessential American icon meets the quintessential British band, and more than any other such collision you could dream of, it works.
Quo 2013/2014 is, of course, a very different beast to Quo 1976. Older, for a start, and yes, they sound it round the vocal lines… although that isn’t such a bad thing. The boogie bounces better when it feels like it’s been lived in, and these chords, riffs and lyrics have certainly been around.
In terms of speed, kicks and glory, too, Quo may not be the same band as they were back in their teens’n’twenties, but they’re a different band that’s as great as they always were. So great that… well, there’s probably not many groups who could get away with releasing two more-or-less identical 21st century live albums, and still have the audience calling for more.
Welcome to Quodonia.