Friday, 12 May 2017

"On The Level: Deluxe Edition" by STATUS QUO (March 2016 Universal/Mercury 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' Reissue - Andy Pearce Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Deeper And Down..." 

Universal and Mercury have been giving it some welly on the Status Quo 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' reissue front of late. So it's hardly surprising to see the British band's beloved seventh album of no-nonsense Rock (and their first UK No. 1) get that same tickle-tastic sonic upgrade and presentation booty call. And while it's very, very far from perfect (the bootleg feel to the Maine tracks on Disc 2 leaves a decidedly nasty taste in the mouth) – this DE of 1975's "On The Level" is a winner on several other fronts – namely the amazing new Audio for the core 10-track album that for fans will absolutely be worth the price of admission alone - and of course better presentation.

First up - "On The Level" gets deeper and down with a stunning new Andy Pearce Remaster on Disc 1 and an hour’s worth of Quo Boogie as a Bonus on Disc 2 (some of which is Previously Unreleased). You get the "Down Down" 7" single edit from November 1974 that preceded the album's release (also a UK No. 1) as well as a rare demo version of the song - the May 1975 3-Track "Status Quo Live!" EP with "Roll Over Lay Down" as the lead track (a UK No. 9 chart hit) - a cover of The Doors' classic "Roundhouse Blues" first issued on the "Rockers Rollin'..." 4CD Box Set in 2001 - and finally six new Previously Unreleased versions recorded live in Maine, Germany in February 1975 at the height of their popularity.

Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham have handled the Remasters of Thin Lizzy, Budgie, Free, Wishbone Ash, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Uriah Heep and Rory Gallagher to name but a few (currently working on Deep Purple apparently) – and all to mucho praise. I've personally never heard this Status Quo album so kicking and alive and that applies to all of it. Secondly this DE has recently dropped in price – so is all the more tempting for those wanting to revisit those heady days of Hair and Levis. Here are the level-headed details...

UK released 25 March 2016 (1 April 2016 in the USA) - "On The Level: Deluxe Edition" by STATUS QUO on Universal/Mercury 4766972 (Barcode 602547669728) is a 2CD Reissue and Remaster and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "On The Level" (38:40 minutes):
1. Little Lady [Side 1]
2. Most Of The Time
3. I Saw The Light
4. Over And Done
5. Nightride
6. Down Down [Side 2]
7. Broken Man
8. What To Do 
9. Where I Am
10. Bye Bye Johnny
Tracks 1 to 10 are their seventh studio album "On The Level" - released late February 1975 in the UK on Vertigo 9102 002 and April 1975 in the USA on Capitol ST-11381. Produced by STATUS QUO - it peaked at No. 1 in the UK (didn't chart USA)

Disc 2 BONUS TRACKS (60:43 minutes):
1. Down Down (Single Edit)
November 1974 UK 7" single on Vertigo 6059 114 - a UK No. 1 - "Night Ride" was its B-side

2. Roll Over Lay Down (Live)
3. Gerdundula (Live)
4. Junior's Wailing (Live)
Tracks 2 to 4 are the "Status Quo Live!" 3-Track EP UK released May 1975 on Vertigo QUO 13 (Roll Over Lay Down (Live) is the lead track)

5. Roadhouse Blues (Live 1975) - First appeared on the 2001 "Rockers Rollin' Quo In Time 1972 - 2000" 4CD Box Set on Universal 589 216-2

6. Backwater (Live)
7. Just Take Me (Live)
8. Claudie (Live)
9. Little Lady (Live)
10. Most Of The Time (Live)
11. Bye Bye Johnny (Live)
Tracks 6 to 11 recorded "Live in Mainz, Germany 22/06/1975" and are Previously Unreleased

12. Down Down (Demo)

FRANCIS ROSSI - Lead Guitar and Vocals
RICK PARFITT - Lead Guitar and Vocals
ROBERT 'Bob' YOUNG - Song Co-Writer

The gatefold card digipak is the usual flimsy effort from Universal with a 'Deluxe Edition' sticker on the shrink-wrap instead of those protective plastic slipcases they used to issue. The inner flaps sport two fabulous 7" picture sleeves for "Down Down" - one from Japan and another from Europe (Germany I suspect) - beneath the see-through CD trays is the collage of photos that adorned the original 1975 LP's inner sleeve - loads taken by the Quo fan club and mates. The CDs have those dark Vertigo labels with the two spaceships or floating jellyfish while the 16-page booklet has liner notes from DAVE LING of the Classic Rock and Metal Hammer magazines. Francis Rossi is newly interviewed for the release and his witty dry remarks show a self-effacing bloke who kept his head (although not his hair) when the whole of England was worshipping at his feet – and someone smart enough to know and acknowledge four decades later that spreading the writing to Parfitt and Lancaster as well made the whole album tighter. Long time band associate and associate songwriter Bob Young and the others throw in their recollections too. There are more rare 7" picture sleeves with great looking live shots - a Top 30 Best Selling Albums list with the Quo at No. 1 trumping Engelbert Humperdinck's "Greatest Hits" at No. 2 (thank gawd for that) - trade reviews on the hysteria surrounding the band after years of hard slog - an advert for the "Status Quo Live!" EP that featured the growing ‘From The Makers Of’ list of album-cover images at the bottom (always a feature at the base of their rear album covers) - and finally several shots of the boys in their trademark heads-down pose – guitars out front - tearing it up across the stages of the UK. It's all very tastefully done.

Rick Parfitt's "Little Lady" still stands up as a great little rocker that cleverly segues into the pretty opening for Francis Rossi and Robert Young's "Most Of The Time". Soon that sweet melody is replaced with monster riffage - taking the one-two sucker punch of the Side 1 openers romping home.  "I Saw The Light" and "Over And Done" are great Quo - short and to the boogie point - but the wicked groove of "Nightride" has always been Side 1 poison. And what you also notice is the amazing power the new Remaster has given all these rockers - fantastic. Side 2 opens with the song that put them at No. 1 - the jangle of "Down Down" - a tune that also brought derision later when it became fashionable to slag off the simplicity of it as something less than worthy. It sounds amazing here - again and again.

Alan Lancaster's "Broken Man" is the record's pop tune - a happier musical jaunt than its lyrics would suggest (he'd envisaged it as more bluesy to begin with). With its opening couldn't-give-a-monkees in the studio dialogue - "What To Do" features Rossi's mixture of Rock and Pop and I've always liked it. "Where I Am" is the love song amidst the thorns - a tune I've always thought showed their greatness - they could lull as well as rock. It ends on their brilliant cover of Chuck Berry's "Bye Bye Johnny" - a live-in-the-studio boogie blaster Capitol tried as a 45 in the USA but to no luck (the British No. 1 album meant nothing over there). The overdubbed Quo Army singing, "You'll Never Walk Alone" as the song fades out brings a great record to a clever close.

The 7" single edit of "Down Down" runs to 3:51 as opposed to the 5:24 minutes of the full album version - but it's properly trounced by the live version of "Roll Over Lay Down" recorded at the Kursaal in Southend in 1975. That's followed by of the wonderfully catchy "Gerdundula" from "Dog Of Two Head" that is described as 'live' but turns out to be a live-in-the-studio re-recording. Back to the 'get it moving' geezer rock of "Junior's Wailing" and the sheer power of the band as a live event is screaming out at you. Their near 13-minute version of the Doors classic "Roadhouse Blues" (Quo's shorter studio cover of it ends Side 2 of the 1972 "Piledriver" album) was also recorded at the Kursaal in Southend in 1975 and first appeared on the "Rockers Rollin'..." Box set and was used as a Bonus Track on the previous "On The Level" CD Remaster. It's a worth inclusion if not a little overly long. Some have complained that the Mainz tracks are bootleg quality at best - good bootleg mind you - but bootleg nonetheless - unfortunately they'd be right. You can hear tape wobble and bluntly I'm not sure I'd want to inflict my ears with these versions ever again (docked a star for that). The near six-minute "Down Down" demo is hissy and crude - interesting only in a historical context but not a lot else and will surely test even a die-hard fan's patience.

Admittedly Disc 2 lets the Side down badly when it's obvious that the keepers (the singles and maybe "Roadhouse Blues") would have fit easily onto an 'Extended Version' of Disc 1. But at least that brilliant remaster of the core album and presentation live up to expectations and its new reduced 2017 price now makes it worth the buy. Toilet Rolls and Mars Bars as Francis Rossi says - heads down everybody... 

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