Written on: 24/11/2004 by JOHNV (3 reviews written)
Excellent versions of some of the oldies; some good cover versions; bonus DVD (though stocks are now limited).
Some indifferent cover versions; smacks of a marketing exercise.
Status Quo, Riffs - Having issued one album (new sets, live performances, 'best ofs' etc.) almost every year in a career that started at the end of 1967, it's inevitable that the occasional Quo release might be not exactly essential. Unlike its predecessor -'Heavy Traffic' (2002), which contained all new material and was their best for several years, 'Riffs' is probably only for the fan who must have everything.
It comes in two formats, a double containing one audio CD and a DVD, or just the former. The double was widely advertised as a limited edition on release, though it depends on Universal Records' definition of what exactly IS a limited edition.
The audio CD has 15 tracks. Five are re-recordings of much-loved Quo favourites which the old line-up first recorded in the 70s, and nine are cover versions. Those of us who greeted their previous two covers collections with less than wholehearted enthusiasm might pause for breath.
Remakes first. Kicking off the collection is a 2003 version of 'Caroline'. Much as I've always adored the 1973 original (what bedenimed Quo fan hasn't shaken an air guitar to this one at some point?), I must admit this is every bit as good. Even after thirty years and heaven knows how many performances on stage, the band still sound enthusiastic and give it their all. And there's the added bonus of Andy Bown's flourishes up and down the ivories, which the hit version never had (at that time they were without a keyboard player).
'Junior's Wailing', first recorded by little-remembered prog/blues band Steamhammer, was a stage favourite in the early 70s. Again, they play it as if for the first time. The same goes for what are surely their two best-loved hits, 'Whatever You Want' and 'Rockin' All Over The World'. Although the sound quality on these is marginally crisper than on the previous versions, they lose nothing in excitement or atmosphere this time round. The other difference is that they end conclusively instead of fading out, so what you hear is more or less how they play them live.
And then there's the ace 'Down The Dustpipe'. Writing this song is probably the one claim to fame of Australian Carl Groszmann, and in 1970 it was the single that convinced sceptical journalists that the Quo weren't just a bunch of psychedelic popsters or Bee Gees copyists. It always was an irresistibly infectious piece of blues boogie, and this re-recording has the virtue of capturing the hit single version's atmosphere exactly, while sounding richer - and not fading out quite so swiftly, though it's still by far the shortest track of all here, at just under two and a half minutes.
The cover versions vary from great to ho-hum. 'I Fought The Law', the old Bobby Fuller Four tune given a new lease of life by the Clash, sounds as if it was dashed off without much enthusiasm. On 'Born To Be Wild', they've altered the basic rhythm slightly. It's OK, but I've always regarded it as a kind of young rebel anthem (the same goes for 'Law' too), and for a band like Quo to do it - not too sure.
They redeem themselves with 'Takin' Care Of Business', an early US hit for Bachman-Turner Overdrive before 'You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet' made them a global name. This is the best of the lot - chunky bar chords structure, no-frills piano and harmonica, this one really drives. Had the band wanted to take a single from this album, this one would have had my vote.
To even things out, next comes the album?s low point. 'Wild One', a.k.a. the Iggy Pop hit 'Real Wild Child', is pretty naff. I'm not sure which of the band is trying to impersonate Elvis Presley, but it does them no favours. On the other hand, a nicely-paced 'On The Road Again' (the bluesy Canned Heat number) and a supercharged 'Tobacco Road' deliver the goods again.
'Centerfold' gives bassist John Edwards a rare lead vocal. I've always thought the song, a J Geils Band Top 3 hit in the UK in 1982 (and US No. 1) a bit silly - vaguely catchy, but once you've got the 'joke' in the lyrics, a tad cheesy and irritating. 'All Day And All Of The Night' always was a great riff, and Quo do the right thing by not adding any frills to it. A rather leaden shot at 'Don't Bring Me Down', one of ELO's best-ever singles, though, is another going-through-the-motions job that suggests their (Quo's) hearts weren't in it. And they leave out that thunderous drum intro - shame on 'em! Still, at least 'Pump It Up' is no disgrace alongside the original - that's by the other Elvis, by the way.
The DVD has further nine tracks. Eight were recorded for various TV shows in the UK and Europe, including 'Top Of The Pops' and a 'TOTP2' Quo special. Apart from the recent album track 'Solid Gold', they're all long-familiar Quo classics, among them 'Roll Over Lay Down', 'Paper Plane', and a medley of 'Forty-Five Hundred Times' and 'Rain'. Straightforward live performances (or in the case of 'TOTP', probably sung or mimed to backing tracks) - and rounded off with the video of their 2002 Top 20 hit, 'Jam Side Down', shot on HMS Ark Royal, featuring the band dressing up as chefs and throwing doughnuts at each other.
There's a rather nice shot of them in the booklet, taken at Powderham Castle, near Exeter. Fond memories for me, as I saw them play an open air show there (having won two tickets in a local newspaper competition) in August 2003, while the album was being recorded.
Whether you're buying this in the high street, or online, check which format is being offered. It probably won't go down in their discography as one of their most important releases, though the DVD is good to have, but no Quo fan will regret acquiring it.
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