Nine times out of 10, stripping a band of their signature sound is asking for trouble; remove the brand recognition and it’s a gamble if you’ll have something still worth taking to market. The easy, breezy, amped-up riffing of Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt is so central to the noise that Status Quo usually make that it’s almost impossible to imagine it not being there.
Status Quo: Aquostic (Stripped Bare)
Rossi, Parfitt and co as you’ve never heard – or seen, thankfully – them before.
Well, imagine no more, and greet a one-out-of-ten, because this unplugged compendium of hits and beloved album tracks not only survives the songs’ sparse makeovers, it dares even to improve many of them. Aquostic (terrible title, the sort of laboured wordplay you might expect to hear from Alan Partridge) is an intimate affair that serves to remind listeners that beneath the hitherto obligatory barre chords lie some killer tunes.
It may be a new way of hearing the pros of Quo play these tracks, but there’s a warm familiarity to what comes out of the speakers. How many thousands of their fans have approached these tracks themselves, perched on their beds with a budget acoustic bought in instalments, dreaming of standing in front of a Marshall amp stack brandishing a top-of-the-range Fender?
The innate simplicity of much of Quo’s music made it attractive to young wannabes forming their first groups, and it’s the makeshift campfire quality of the songs that shines through here. Down The Dustpipe takes on the air of a laconic back-porch jam (think The Beatles of For You Blue), while Rain is reinvented as a rustic jug band romp that could have been lifted from an early album by The Band.
Unplugged doesn’t necessarily mean unadorned, however, and a savvy use of strings replaces the psych vibes of Pictures Of Matchstick Men with an hypnotic baroque chamber pop mood. They also give Mystery Song a cod classical grandeur, the track’s memorable opening riff taking on a sense of melodrama in the hands of violinists and cellists.
Another hallmark of the Quo formula is Rossi’s unmistakable nasal vocal, which benefits from space to breathe when not sparring with electronically-enhanced clutter. Break The Rules, especially, showcases an alluring, oaky croon you’d normally associate with an elder statesman country star.
A few stick-in-the-muds may cry “Sacrilege!” But for the rest of us the omission of cables, dials and switches makes for a pleasing diversion, and Quo should be celebrated for pressing the ‘refresh’ button.