Music

Chuck Berry: Chuck

The good news is that while the man was no longer a groundbreaking creator of a new musical style, he still could rock in creative and energetic ways.


Chuck Berry

Chuck

Label: Dualtone
US Release Date: 2017-06-09
Amazon
iTunes

John Lennon famously said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'”. Indeed, the recently deceased Berry was the first rocker with staying power both as a singer, writer, and performer whose classics such as “Johnny B Goode”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Maybellene”, “Sweet Little Sixteen” and many others form the core of the rock cannon. Berry’s influence and importance cannot be overstated. However, that was then this is now. The 90-year-old Berry planned to release a new album before he died, and it has been posthumously released. The good news is that while the man was no longer a groundbreaking creator of a new musical style, he still could rock in creative and energetic ways.

Berry always had a penchant for reusing musical formulas. Even in the beginning, he reused the same melody in several songs (think of “No Particular Place to Go” and “School Days”, for example). Berry employs a similar strategy on Chuck. He redoes old hits like “Havana Moon” as “Jamaica Moon” and “Johnny B Goode” as “Lady B. Goode” here. The familiar tunes are comfortable, like an old chair that still rocks on its runners despite its age.

However, Berry was not content to merely replay his old hits. The best songs on Chuck reveal his willingness to try new things even while evoking the past. For example, the lively “Big Boys” borrows liberally from “Johnny B Goode” (with Tom Morello on guitar) while taking the song on a joy ride through his search for pleasure. Berry understands how to coyly sing a line about “no ands, ifs, or buts” into a phrase laden with sexual implications. And there’s the jazz-tinged barroom ballad “Dutchman” a shaggy dog story that tells the tale of a musician and a femme fatale. The song goes nowhere on purpose to show the triviality of human existence and the unimportance of art. Life and love are but a mystery.

These have always been the themes of Berry’s music. The existential angst of living as a teenager in the '50s or an old man abiding in the 21st century are not that different. The answer, or at least the best consolation, can be found in the arms of another human being. The strangest track here is Berry’s cover of “You Go to My Head”, a song popularized by Billie Holiday back in the 1930s. Holiday sang it with a lilt in her voice, a sweet and high sound that conveyed how love can make one giddy. Berry does it to a tinkling piano accompaniment and a New Orleans beat. The love made manifest here is one that lasts over time. The first track on the album “Wonderful Woman” is a tribute to his wife Toddy, and it seems that this one too concerns his enduring love for her. As a younger man, Berry was a notorious womanizer whose behavior was far from spotless. Age has made him appreciate what endures.

Berry’s joined by his son Charles Berry Jr and his daughter Ingrid making the album a domestic affair, and the song “Darlin’” explicitly addresses his role as a dad. This album was Berry’s first new one since 1997, and he knew it would be his legacy. He wanted to express and document what family meant to him. But in a sense, all rock and rollers are his children as his music was our father. Chuck reminds us once again of his patrimony.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

9
Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane
Music

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".

Music

Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.

Music

Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.

Books

On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.

Music

Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".

Film

Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?

Music

London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".

Books

Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.

Music

Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.