After Status Quo released their ill-advised covers album Famous In The Last Century in 2000, it seemed unlikely they’d try that trick again. In the band’s biography XS All Areas, Francis Rossi was unambiguous: “…for me it was the worst Quo album there had ever been…”, so it was quite a surprise when Riffs dropped three years later. Containing classic covers and a couple of Quo classics rerecorded, it was a vast improvement on Famous, and along with their 2002’s Heavy Traffic, it set the band back on track after their ‘90s wobble.
Disc One: Riffs
As if to exorcise the memory of Famous In The Last Century, the aptly titled Riffs gets off on a familiar footing with ‘Caroline’. It was one of the band’s live set openers for over 25 years, and this version, adding a minute onto the original studio version, is more in tune with an explosive Quo show, and is only missing a rabid crowd. We’re then straight into cover territory with an excitable version of ‘I Fought The Law’ that exists somewhere between Bobby Fuller and the Clash. ‘Born To Be Wild’ has been covered by thousands of artists (most notably The Cult, Lizzy Borden, and Zodiac Mindwarp) and to be brutally honest they’re all pretty awful, but Quo’s version, awash with keys, is not half bad, and bucks the trend somewhat.
Many of the songs that Quo have chosen to cover on this disc are embedded in rock history, so it was a brave move to attempt them in the first place (especially after the abject failure of Famous). However, Riffs works because the covers are handled respectfully, but not too seriously, and subsequently it has a sense of joy that was lacking on previous albums. These aren’t songs you should over-analyse; rather you should allow the pounding beats of ‘Tobacco Road’, ‘Centerfold’ and ‘Pump It Up’ to massage your cranium. Although it was written by John Fogarty, ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ is, to all intense and purposes, a Quo song (as is ‘Down The Dustpipe’) but their inclusion, along with ‘Caroline’ and ‘Whatever You Want’, seem a rather strange decision. Quo fans surely already own multiple versions of these songs, so why do they need more? By including them it seems the band were playing safe after the lukewarm reception of Famous. It’s understandable, but there was no reason, because the covers on Riffs hold up rather well.
As a bonus, this disc contains the ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides of contemporary singles ‘Thinking Of You’ and ‘You’ll Come Round’, but they detract, rather than add, to Riffs, and would have been better carried over to the second disc.
Disc Two: Bonus Tracks
While most Quo fans will be familiar with the material on the first CD, this second set is a smorgasbord of the rare and unreleased, and an amazing live version of ‘Caroline’ kicks off this disc in electrifying style. In the live environment there’s not a band who can hold a candle to Quo, and it is live cuts that make up the bulk of these bonus tracks. These songs really capture the essence of a Quo gig, and you can visualise thousands of people singing along, and hands clapping in joyous unison, and the energy that pulsates from band to crowd (and back again) is palpable. Highlights include a moody ‘Rain’, the gnarly ‘Gerdundula’ and the 11-minute ‘Mystery’ melody. With over 100 Quo singles in existence, it can be a bit too much for even the hardcore fanatic to keep track of, so it is cool that we get the two B-sides of ‘Thinking Of You’ included here (live versions, naturally).
Although Riffs was Status Quo’s lowest charting album for over a decade, it marked something of a rebirth for the band, and the return of the riff.
- Reviewed by Peter Dennis.
- Riffs (Deluxe Edition) is released via UMC on 30th September 2022 and is available here.
- Official Website
Disc One: Riffs
- I Fought The Law
- Born To Be Wild
- Takin’ Care Of Business
- Wild One
- On The Road Again
- Tobacco Road
- All Day And All Of The Night
- Don’t Bring Me Down
- Juniors Wailing
- Pump It Up
- Down The Dustpipe
- Whatever You Want
- Rockin’ All Over The World
- You’ll Come Round (Single Edit)
- Lucinda (B-Side Of ‘You’ll Come Around’)
- Thinking Of You (Remix)
Disc Two: Bonus Tracks
- Caroline (Unreleased Alternative Version, Live)
- Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like (B-Side Of ‘Thinking Of You’, Live)
- Break The Rules (B-Side Of ‘Thinking Of You’, Live)
- Forty-Five Hundred Times (XS All Areas DVD, Live)
- Rain (Live)
- Hold You Back (Live)
- Mystery Melody: Mystery Song/Railroad/Most Of The Time/Wild Side Of Life/Rollin’ Home/Again And Again/Slow Train (Live)
- Gerdundula (Live)
- Roll Over Lay Down (Live)
- Down Down (Live)
- Whatever You Want (Live)
- Rockin’ All Over The World (Live)
- Encore Melody: Rock N’ Roll Music/Carol/Bye Bye Johnny (Montreux Jazz Festival, 4th July 2004, Live)