Sunday, 21 July 2013

STATUS QUO: 1+9+8+2

(#262: 24 April 1982, 1 week)

Track listing: She Don’t Fool Me/Young Pretender/Get Out And Walk/Jealousy/I Love Rock And Roll/Resurrection/Dear John/Doesn’t Matter/I Want The World To Know/I Should Have Known/Big Man

The title didn’t fool me either, and neither did the record. Add the constituent numbers up with the dainty, verging on microscopic, plus signs, and you get: twenty (as the rest of the cover quite clearly informs us). Their twentieth album? No, because once you discount live and compilation albums, this was only (only?) their fifteenth album. But in 1962, Francis Rossi and Alan Lancaster met for the first time. You’ve probably long since stopped reading this piece, impatient for entry #267, and thrown up a quiet roar of frustration that, in this year of years, you have to be reading about this lot again.

What can I say? Key records like Sulk and New Gold Dream miss the direct TPL cut, but an album pretending to call itself 1982 gets in. Why? Part of the reason may have to do with the fact that at around this time, the group did two Prince’s Trust benefit concerts at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, the second of which was attended by Prince Charles himself, and the resultant publicity helped sell the album.

What was also happening in the Britain of April 1982 – or several thousand miles south of Britain, to be exact – was a war, a war, moreover, which while it was happening was referred to in the media only as a “conflict.” Yes, Denis Healey, under the Callaghan administration, had sent a fleet to the islands in 1977 when the Argentinians began making threatening noises without any further “conflict” required. But Mrs Thatcher saw the nascent Ealing comedy scenario in her head, probably more vividly than she had considered the fascist junta then in power in Argentina, and decided that perhaps it wasn’t the people, or even the sheep, which needed saving, but the Stanley Holloway idea of “Britishness,” wherever in the world it might land.

Then soldiers began to get killed, and ships were blown up, and suddenly Thatcher was made to realise that post-war cinematic fantasies were a lot more complicated and messy when attempting to transpose them into real life. No matter, though; the islands were recaptured, Galtieri was brought down, to nobody’s regret – with the attendant irony that a British defence matrix intended to fight communism ended up defeating fascists – and the 1945 lontano reappeared in the mist ebbing above the average English dell. Britain Was Great Again and Thatcher became unassailable in the polls; we won a war, where were the rest of you?

And 1982 – and 1+9+8+2 – marked, I think, the point where Status Quo crossed the line from credible rock band to light entertainment National Treasures, a fixture as impassive and immovable as the Queen, or England, to the point where I’m not sure they thought they needed to try any longer (truly this record is the sound of rock and roll as the Royal Family might understand it).

There were valid reasons for this; John Coghlan had gone towards the end of 1981, either jumping or being pushed – he seems to think that it was a mixture of both – and the group’s drummer was now Pete Kircher, formerly of Honeybus and the Original Mirrors.  This means that by 1982 Quo no longer sounded like an integrated group; Kircher’s drumming on this record, shall I say, fills a gap, but is so unobtrusive and frill-free that one could at times mistake him for a drum machine – indeed, a drum machine loop is evident on the closing “Big Man” and the last lines of Animal Farm come to mind; only on “I Should Have Known” does he exhibit any discernible personality or supra-functional activity.

But this is palpably not the same Status Quo who have been absent from this tale for over six years (although long-serving keyboardist Andy Bown was by now a full band member). The five studio albums they released between Blue For You and 1+9+8+2 all comfortably made the top five (as did their 1977 double live album and 1980’s 12 Gold Bars greatest hits collection); this record’s predecessor, 1981’s Never Too Late, despite boasting one of the worst album covers of any major British rock act, was kept out of this tale only by Kings Of The Wild Frontier. However, there were signs of wear and tear; finally releasing a single called “Rock ‘N’ Roll” in November 1981, and making it a keyboard-predominant ballad with hardly any guitars, was a nice touch – but the track itself came from 1980’s Just Supposin’.

What listening to 1+9+8+2 makes me think of is the attempted revisit of a pub crawl in the new Simon Pegg/Nick Frost movie The World’s End. The film itself is a canny mixture of Last Orders and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, and like Siegel’s original movie of the latter, the analogy can hardly be understated; the men – or, at any rate, Pegg’s character – try to recapture whatever stirring and hope they might have harboured in 1990, a simpler and happier world of “Loaded,” “One Love” and “Kinky Afro,” but they discover, incrementally, that none of the pubs resembles the pubs they used to know, that the shoulder-shrugging acceptance of creeping corporatisation and uniformity have made for a Stepford world. When everyone and everything is the same, then nothing, and no one, can afford to be different.

While this phenomenon will hardly be a revelation to those of us who have witnessed the gradual closing down and arid realignment of London over the last decade, one does wonder whether the band heard on 1+9+8+2 are a clone Quo. They sound like Quo – to a degree, since they no longer have their original drummer – but on not-so-close examination they are a lifelike but lifeless replica of Quo.

The Quo I’ve written about in the seventies knew their limitations, all right, but they were inventive, scarcely ever obvious and had that crucial degree of inter-band musical telepathy. But lyrics like “it ain’t working right” (“She Don’t Fool Me”) and, more pertinently, “Oh no not again” (“Jealousy”) are depressingly self-fulfilling. There is nothing to distract the listener’s attention from the fact that the group have chosen to stay in this overage boys’ world of smelly pubs, mean girls who do them wrong (the latter being the primary subject of almost every song on the album) and wilful ignorance of the outside world. I note that Francis Rossi only had a hand in writing four of the eleven songs, and it shows; there are embellishments (the guitar FX on “Get Out And Walk”) rather than amendments or progression. Business-as-usual rockers like “I Should Have Known” and single “Dear John” (the latter not written by anybody in the group) are pallid and listless.

Worse comes when Rossi doesn’t sing lead, and Quo prove just how shockingly anonymous they can now otherwise become. “I Love Rock And Roll” is so tacky and ghastly, with its cheap keyboard interjections and crappy lyrics, that it could be Racey; and no it’s nothing to do with the Arrows or Joan Jett, though does make me wish I were writing about Jett’s infinitely superior I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll album from the same period. Elsewhere (e.g. “Get Out And Walk”) they sound as though they are auditioning for the Cars. On “Resurrection” they even have a go at being the Eagles, but only succeed in reminding me of how great an album David Lindley’s El-Rayo X is. “I Want The World To Know” is like Black Lace covering Howard Jones’ “Like To Get To Know You Well.” But perhaps the worst song on the record is the atrociously ham-fisted attempt at emulating American AoR that is “Big Man” which plods along bombastically like Styx on an off day. And people wonder why America chose to stay with ZZ Top; this sounds like a bad Bon Jovi pastiche, before anybody had even heard of Bon Jovi!

So the “Buy British” undertow of the times probably aided this album’s success, but in the immediate wake of The Number Of The Beast it simply will not do any more. Not when Combat Rock was just around the corner, or the Go-Gos were number one in the USA with Beauty And The Beat. Not when everything else was changing. And I am influenced by the knowledge that had it not been for Status Quo and the British people’s fatal attraction towards National Treasures, this space would have been occupied by Pelican West. Go and listen to “Lemon Fire Brigade” and “Calling Captain Autumn,” open the window and understand the difference between life and death.