(earMusic, out Fri 23 Mar 2018)
When Status Quo’s Rick Parfitt died, right at the end of 2016, it went relatively unremarked upon. This was the Year of Death, after all. We’d already lost Bowie, Prince and Cohen, George Michael would die a day later, and Parfitt wasn’t that level of fame. But there was also an element of musical snobbery about the lack of column inches he got. He might not have been a musical innovator, but Quo have been a fixture of British music for half a century, and survived decades of jokes about three chords and denim to enjoy a late career revival courtesy of Radio 2 and “Aquostic” versions of their greatest hits. In fact, it was a surprise to see the Quo continuing without him. Rossi without Parfitt is Chas without Dave, Hall without Oates, Craig without Charlie – it just doesn’t seem right. The British music cognoscenti could at least have tipped their hat to him a bit more.
His final musical act is this, a ten song album he put together almost in secret during a period of recuperation from an earlier heart attack. Yet despite failing health, there’s no sense of imminent mortality hanging over it. At least, not musically. This is amps-up, riff-tastic rock of a fan-pleasing variety, except when it’s an amps-down, gentle rocker of a fan-pleasing variety. If there’s an immovable object in British music, it’s the Status Quo Songwriting Handbook.
Thus the blues shuffle gets liberally used, augmented by some boogie-woogie piano here, a drum fill there. It’s chug, chug, riff, chug, chug, riff. You know the score. Parfitt didn’t quite finish it – another recording session was scheduled for February 2017 – so there’s also a little help from his friends, most distinctively Brian May. Lyrically, it’s Baby’s First Rhyming Dictionary couplets – “way/day”, “real/feel”, “bad/sad” – but would you want it any other way? Profundity has no place in Brit-blues like this. There’s a song called Lonesome Road, for goodness’ sake.
And yet on the gentler moments, other influences creep in. When I Was Fallin’ In Love could be Travelling Wilburys with its Jeff Lynne strings and harmonies and George Harrison-esque cadences. Without You could be a Robbie Williams’ ballad. Over And Out has some late period McCartney about it – tender, reflective and clean-cut, with poignantly faltering old man vocals to boot. The poignancy’s fitting too. Despite the major key pleasantry, these lyrics betray darker thoughts: “Signal’s gone weak / it all looks so bleak … I’m trying to fly / I think it’s goodbye / and this is my over and out”.
Parfitt’s final sign-off is the pure rock of Hallowe’en, almost as much AC/DC as it is Quo. “There’s a chill in the air / but I don’t care / I’m out and about tonight…”
…which could almost sum up his life. Three wives, a grand a week coke habit, and more weeks on the singles chart than the Beatles – literally sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. For better or worse, you can’t say Parfitt’s was a life unlived. This posthumous solo affair doesn’t break the mould, but is a fitting finale for this good-time charlie.