The new album from Status Quo has divided the band’s legion of fans. The first new music since the death of founding member Rick Parfitt in 2016, Backbone marks out a new era for a band that’s already had its fair share of eras. Whether it should or shouldn’t have been released under the name of Status Quo, or recorded at all for that matter, is an argument that can be played out elsewhere - we’re not getting into it here.
Backbone finds the band energised and optimistic. With two new members in Richie Malone (rhythm guitar) and Leon Cave (drums), there’s youth and vibrancy to balance out the experience of stalwarts Francis Rossi, Andy Bown and John ‘Rhino’ Edwards. It’s not all plain sailing though.
Opening track “Waiting For A Woman” chugs along anonymously and doesn’t inspire confidence for what’s to come. It’s all a bit pedestrian and predictable; something Quo might have got away with as a mid-album track. From the opening riff to a muffled solo more befitting a beginner guitarist than Francis Rossi, it’s instantly forgettable. Thankfully though, things improve quickly.
Even in Quo’s heyday of double denim, obscene volume levels and long hair, the thumping, heavy sound was offset by Rossi’s ability to knit a hook into every song. With Cut Me Some Slack, Liberty Lane, and title track Backbone, he shows there are few better at it. Later, Get Out Of My Head shoots out of the blocks at some pace, sounding like a cut off Piledriver with a little (a lot) more production. It’s fast and powerful, but with that signature pop-hook edge that sets Quo in a field of its own.
The other mid-album tracks for the most part tick the blues shuffle box, but with Quo that’s far from standard as each are littered with glorious turnarounds between sections and riffing that instantly provokes head bobbing and toe-tapping. The layered vocal refrain in I See You’re In Some Trouble kicks the song into a new gear, dragging the ear away from the classic blues formula. In Better Take Care Rossi recovers from the opening track’s misfire with a some excellent soloing as bassist Rhino assumes backing vocal duties.
As it started though, Backbone finishes on a bit of a low with Running Out Of Time. That it’s more reminiscent of mid-2000s albums Under The Influence and Heavy Traffic, speaks volumes for the strength of the album’s other nine tracks.
A band of Status Quo’s stature and longevity faces the impossible task of sounding familiar to stalwart fans at the same time as innovating, updating and progressing. There will be purists who might never be pleased but given a fair listen it’s hard to see anyone picking too much fault with Backbone.
With significant airplay already, thanks to those rock/pop crossover melodies, it’s likely this collection will add a few new fans waiting for an excuse to break out the double denim. In a modern Status Quo live set they’ll more than hold their own alongside the Frantic Four’s classics and, for more open-minded Quo fans, will represent a welcome return to form.