CHUCK BERRY St. Louis To Liverpool (Speakers Corner)

Chuck Berry might not be thought of as an album artist, and releases such as “St. Louis To Liverpool” demonstrate why. The title obliquely suggests a certain uppitiness, as if the artist were attempting to belatedly collect some dues on the coat- (or perhaps duck-) tails of a certain Liverpudlian quartet. What neither the album’s title nor its sleevenotes address is that whilst The Beach Boys, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were freely making merry with his songs Chuck himself was in prison for transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines. Rather than being the product of rejuvenated creative energies attempting to reclaim the artist’s crown, “St. Louis To Liverpool” is actually a cobbled-together pseudo-compilation containing four of Berry’s 1964/5 singles, their b-sides and some outtakes and single sides stretching back to 1957. Under the circumstances, it’s a minor miracle it sounds even as cohesive as it does.

When Chuck’s on form - the literally jet-propelled compacted storytelling of “Promised Land”, the emotional autogeddon of “No Particular Place To Go”, the perfectly formed “You Never Can Tell” – I can’t think of anybody who crammed more into 150 seconds that side of “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. The problem lies with the other three-quarters of the album. “Little Marie” is a somewhat baggy (and not in the Happy Mondays sense) sequel to “Memphis, Tennessee”, and “Our Little Rendezvous” a thinly veiled rewrite of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”.  Even the titles of “Go Bobby Soxer” and “Liverpool Drive” sounds like exploitative dreck, and the album reaches the apotheosis of pointlessness by following two instrumentals with a Christmas tune (although the lines “Got me a hi-fi for Christmas/Now I’m living in paradise” never fail to raise a cheer with me).

Speakers Corner’s vinyl reissue of “St. Louis To Liverpool” manages to make a mediocre album even worse. Normally one of the most consistent of audiophile software companies, they seem to have come a cropper recently, following the substandard “Muddy Waters At Newport 1960” moaned about elsewhere in this issue with this, covered in a weird kind of fluffy distortion that renders much of the album close to unlistenable. At least it draws attention away from the at times strange stereo mix, which on “Things I Used To Do” places Chuck’s vocals in one speaker and his guitar in the other, the kind of frivolous indulgence that keeps sales of collector bait such as the Beatles and Dylan mono boxes healthy.