Home > News & Reviews > Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry - Chuck (Album Review)

Wednesday, 28 June 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

These days, the term legend is flung around as casually as insults are across the barbaric playgrounds of social media. Ed Sheeran a legend? Gary Barlow? Justin Bieber? Let’s get real. The term should be exclusively reserved for game-changing artists, pioneers and visionaries who reshape the cultural landscape and leave behind a legacy that echoes through the ages.

Moulding guitar-driven R&B into an exhilarating, high octane new form - and allying it with street-smart poetry that gave a rip-roaring voice to the aspirations, experiences and sexual awakening of American teenagers in the 1950s and ‘60s - Chuck Berry established the sonic and lyrical template, as well as the rebellious swagger, that defined rock ‘n’ roll and inspired every generation that followed.

Having said that, when he passed away earlier this year at the age of 90, you may have initially thought: "Was he still alive?".

Although an active touring musician until 2014, Berry hadn’t made a record since 1979. People weren’t interested in his new music, they just wanted to hear him perform hits like Maybelline, Roll Over Beethoven and Johnny B Goode.  

Which makes ‘Chuck’ a historic effort, being his first album in nearly four decades as well as a final statement he hoped would match his hallowed early work.  

Comprising a succinct series of self-reverential snapshots, this aptly titled swansong resembles an autobiographical photo album, with Berry using brand new songs to recall his defining moments and contributions while imparting life lessons and preparing for the curtain call.  

Big Boys is this record’s only absolute classic and represents the archetypal Berry sound courtesy of its slaloming guitar intro, libidinous rhythms, fizzing desire and magnificent hook. Likewise, Lady B Goode is a call back to the titular hero of his most famous song, albeit with a gender-flipping twist as it empathises with the titular character in a way that suggests art mirroring life.   

It’s well known Berry had a complex relationship with women that at times strayed into legally suspect territory. So where Wonderful Woman, Dutchman and a seductive cover of Larry Clinton’s You Go To My Head are seemingly messages of devotion to wife Themetta, to whom this record is dedicated, the closing Eyes of Man also suggests an attempt at saying lessons have been learned as it preaches a message of respect.

Every song here deliberately showcases traits that made the man and musician. A live take on Tony Joe White’s 3/4 Time (Enchiladas), for example, highlights the music that inspired him and the charismatic showmanship he exuded. The closing line - “So while I'm still kickin', I'm gonna keep pickin' my tunes. I like what I'm doin' and I hope it don't end too soon,” -  perfectly encapsulates his raison d’etre while foreshadowing the poignant conversational blues of Darlin’. 

Crooned to his daughter Ingrid, who sings back her answers to his ruminations on an eventful life approaching its end, the song’s extremely touching and indicative of how this record is a true family affair, with both Charles Berry Jr and Charles Berry III backing him on guitar.

As great as it is to hear him so energised in spite of his advanced years, ‘Chuck’ does stumble at times. Jamaica Moon is a pale imitation of Havana Moon featuring an embarrassing patois delivery and, for an album whose material was gestating for decades to clock in at a stingy 35 minutes, with two covers, suggests his creativity was either waning or that an avalanche of posthumous releases beckons.

What’s ultimately pleasing, though, is there’s no grab for relevancy here. Guest performers Gary Clark Jr, Nathaniel Rateliff and Tom Morello meld so seamlessly with Berry’s unmistakable style as to be barely discernible. This record doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel and why should it? If the blues had a baby and they called it rock n’ roll, Chuck Berry was the delinquent offspring who made the damn thing spin in the first place.  

Let Us Know What You Think - Leave A Comment!

You May Also Like:

Forget The Barriers: Goat Girl And The Power of Subverting Expectations
Tue 22 May 2018
Photo: Holly Whitaker Expectations are constantly being placed on Goat Girl, and they just keep quietly subverting them. The band were hyped by London’s music press before they had released their debut single, while a narrative grew around them as a political garage-rock band that was part of a growing scene in south London. They then signed to Rough Trade, and 18 months later their self-titled debut album was released. Here they finally have an opportunity to let the music speak for itself.
How To Be a Real Adult: Common Holly on 'Playing House' and Finding Your Place
Tue 15 May 2018
Photo: Sean Mundy  “We’re all pretending to be adults on a fairly constant basis.” Brigitte Naggar tells it like it is. Her thoughtful, considered debut album as Common Holly, ‘Playing House’, was released in October last year, and although it jogs down the well-trodden break up path, she covers the difficult ground through sparse guitar textures, unexpected math-rock production and truly relatable twentysomething lyricism.
Hip-hop, Not Easy Listening: Lewis Parker On 20 Years of 'Masquerades & Silhouettes'
Thu 07 Jun 2018
For people of a certain generation, English producer Lewis Parker is best known for working with Ghostface Killah and being sampled by Joey Bada$$. Flitting between London and New York, Parker has made his name as one of hip-hop's most respected underground heads, renowned for his impeccable groove-based beats.
Journey of a Wild Heart: Introducing Kashena Sampson
Thu 31 May 2018
She may have been mentioned by Rolling Stone magazine in the same breath as Stevie Nicks, and already had her music compared to Linda Ronstadt, Bobbie Gentry and Jim Croce, but Kashena Sampson is capable of standing on her own two feet. Her debut album, ‘Wild Heart’, showcases a singer-songwriter whose artistic authenticity and integrity is increasingly rare in Nashville these days.
Enjoy the Balance: Collective Soul's Will Turpin Shines on 'Serengeti Drivers'
Tue 05 Jun 2018
Every now and then an album arrives from out of nowhere and instantly brightens up your day. Like rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds, ‘Serengeti Drivers’ – the debut solo album from Collective Soul bassist Will Turpin – is quite simply an unexpected treat. Bursting to the brim with a melodious mix of pop, rock, Americana, funk, soul and AOR, it’s the kind of record summer was invented for.
Timing Is Everything: Davey Newington Talks Boy Azooga's Debut LP '1,2 Kung Fu!'
Wed 06 Jun 2018
Photo: Stella Gelardi Malfilatre More haste, less speed. It’s a lesson a lot of us learn the hard way, and one that has shaped Davey Newington’s trajectory with his latest musical project, Boy Azooga.
Middle Kids - Lost Friends (Album Review)
Fri 11 May 2018
‘Lost Friends’, the debut album from Sydney indie-rockers Middle Kids, is a future soundtrack to an indie movie about lost millennials. The band are able to perfectly capture a feeling of intense insecurity through a retro Instagram filter.
Dear Nora - Skulls Example (Album Review)
Thu 31 May 2018
Did Katy Davidson need to bring back Dear Nora? When the project was placed on the shelf in 2008, it had just a handful of records to its name and a presence within the world of west coast DIY indie. Those who would miss it would miss it hard, but most wouldn’t blink an eye. Davidson moved on, enjoying a decade-long spell with Key Losers and Lloyd & Michael while also taking on session and producing work. So, the question remains: why bring back Dear Nora?
< Prev   Next >