This three-CD, 63-track set is the last word on Status Quo's early years, gathering not only every track the band did for Pye in the late '60s and early '70s, but also adding seven songs by the Spectres and two by Traffic Jam (the group's pre-Status Quo incarnations). As Status Quo were a psychedelic pop band in the late '60s before shifting to hard boogie rock at the turn of the decade, it might be a disappointment to much of their fan base, as prior to 1970 they sounded like an almost entirely different act. Conversely, though, to British Invasion and psychedelic fans who have little use for the band's long run as hard rock journeymen, this might be the most useful Status Quo collection of all. For it's psychedelic pop -- of a resolutely trendy brand that's actually more "pop" than "psychedelic" -- that dominates the first two discs, including of course their big hit "Pictures of Matchstick Men," as well as their follow-up U.K. Top Ten single, "Ice in the Sun." It's not until the half-dozen or so 1970 recordings that close disc two that the band starts embracing harder sounds, almost fully changing to a blues-rock-boogie direction for disc three.
As for the lighter approach that makes up the bulk of this set, the material suffers from a problem common to many bands that had just one great song. Much of the late-'60s stuff here is derivative, with varying streaks of innocuous Bee Gees, Move, Kinks, Beatles, Badfinger, and bubblegum influences. The 1968 songs in particular lean too heavily on the shimmering wobbly guitar effects introduced by "Pictures of Matchstick Men." Most importantly, though, the songs aren't special, wafting by in an inoffensive period fashion, occasionally making a deeper impression on tracks like "Sunny Cellophane Skies" (which, again like many of their 1968 tunes, has helium-high harmony vocals and weedy organ), "When I Awake" (whose intro has some awesome fluttering wah-wah guitar), and "Josie" (which sounds a little like a kiddie Kinks-meets-Easybeats). The more aggressive early-'70s material isn't any more memorable or original, to be honest, though it does include a couple fair-sized British hits in "Down the Dustpipe" and "In My Chair." Devoted collectors might be most interested in the pre-Status Quo cuts by the Spectres and Traffic Jam, but these are even less imbued with distinctive personality than the rest of the material, sounding like the product of an also-ran club band from the waning days of the British Invasion. The Spectres' tracks are too heavy on unimaginative covers as well, though their peculiarly chintzy organ parts at least give it some sonic imprint; the two Traffic Jam songs are most notable for "Almost but Not Quite There," a coy teen sexual innuendo reminiscent of some of the Troggs' filler from the period.
Finally, though Sanctuary is to be commended for gathering all the strands of the early Status Quo together in such a comprehensive fashion, it garners no gold stars for the packaging. Such a thorough set deserves more liner notes than the mere five paragraphs dispensed here, and even more troublingly, there's no information about when and where the tracks were originally released. Nothing's supplied at all but songwriting credits and years of original release, in fact, with nothing said about on what singles and albums these songs (a handful of which didn't surface until the 1980s and 1990s) were first issued.