Elvis Is Back: Legacy Edition
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2011, Volume 18, #5
Written by John Metzger
Thu May 12, 2011, 06:30 AM CDT
Drafted into the army in late 1958, Elvis Presley was well aware of the risks he would face when he put his career on hold in order to fulfill his responsibilities to the U.S. government — not that he had much of a choice. Although it played well publicly, it also left the door open for any number of up-and-coming acts to arrive on the scene and unseat him as the reigning king of the pop charts. Yet, Presley embraced his role, insisting that he be treated no differently from any of the other men in his battalion. When he was released from his service in 1960, Presley immediately sought to prove his merits as a recording artist. In fact, the resulting effort Elvis Is Back is one of the better full-length outings in his canon.
Many of the efforts that Presley issued throughout his career were either compilations of material or outings that were filled with songs that had been written expressly for his films. Elvis Is Back, then, is a rare exception for the simple reason that as he was recording its contents, Presley knew precisely where and how they would be used. It was customary at the time for singles and albums to remain somewhat segregated, and not surprisingly, the tunes that received the most attention — Stuck on You, It’s Now or Never, Are You Lonesome Tonight?, and Surrender — weren’t featured as part of the original track listing for the affair. Fortunately, in latter-day incarnations of the endeavor — including Elvis Is Back: Legacy Edition — all of the pieces consistently have been reunited in order to paint a complete portrait of Presley’s activities.
Knowing that he had to reclaim his status, Presley poured his heart and soul into Elvis Is Back. He mixed rousing rock tunes (Make Me Know It; Dirty, Dirty Feeling) with lonely country-imbued pleas (I Will Be Home Again). There are plenty of moments on the set that are reminiscent of the rock ’n‘ roll intensity that he had helped to generate. It helped, of course, that Presley was reunited with guitarist Scotty Moore as well as his brilliant backing troupe The Jordanaires. Still, without his confident and charismatic vocals, their efforts would have been for naught.
Even so, in listening to Elvis Is Back, it becomes apparent that Presley wasn’t merely interested in reconnecting with his past. He also wanted to move forward by broadening the scope of his work. On Thrill of Your Love, he embraced a gospel-based framework, while his cover of Fever, with its rumbles of percussion and mesmerizing finger-snaps, sank seductively into jazz. Elsewhere, the swagger-filled charge of It Feels So Right as well as the intoxicating anguish of Like a Baby slipped deeply into blues. The relaxed but groovy tone of I Gotta Know surely influenced The Beach Boys, and the operatic textures of Surrender certainly highlighted the give-and-take that existed between Presley and Roy Orbison.
The material on Elvis Is Back might not be as ferociously earth-shattering as his output at Sun Studios, but enough polish and maturity were applied to the affair to indicate that if he had not grown so distracted, he might have continued making phenomenal albums for quite a long time. Unfortunately, the success of Elvis Is Back and its accompanying singles thrust Presley right back into the rat race from which he had temporarily escaped. It sparked a feverishly intense period in his career, during which there were too many demands on his time. As he grew weary from the routine, he followed an increasingly formulaic approach to his albums and films.
Still, it’s impossible not to admire Presley’s ambitions. Within the 15-month period that separated the release of Elvis Is Back from its proper successor Something for Everybody, Presley not only filmed and released the soundtrack to G.I. Blues, but he also assembled his first gospel album (His Hand in Mine). In many ways, he not only was making up for lost time, but he also was trying to take advantage of his popularity while it lasted.
Given the rapid pace at which it was recorded, it was somewhat surprising that Something for Everybody was a solid — if not exactly spectacular — effort. All but one of the songs on Something for Everybody were captured in a single, late-night session, and at times, Presley’s weariness slips through the youthful facade he was trying to maintain. Even the singles that were issued independently of the affair — Little Sister and Good Luck Charm — were dispensed professionally, settling into spaces that were more relaxed and easy-going than the pressure-cooked atmospheres of his work at Sun Studios.
Something for Everybody certainly lived up to its title. In fact, one of the more notable facets of the endeavor is that it continued Presley’s attempts to widen his stylistic approach. Presley knew he couldn’t remain in one place forever. Attuned to the music of the era — as well as the maturation of his audience — he leveraged the Orbison-esque drama of Surrender in order to redefine himself as an artist. Tracks like There’s Always Me and Sentimental Me were further departures from his standard fare, while Gently pushed him into the realm of the burgeoning folk scene.
Perhaps as a way of masking the fact that its contents weren’t exactly cohesive, Something for Everybody was split between ballad- and rhythm-oriented sides. As a result, the set feels considerably less dimensional than it actually is. Arguably, Something for Everybody would have functioned better if its songs had been allowed to mingle. There are plenty of highlights to be found amidst the collection’s 12 tracks — It’s a Sin, I’m Comin’ Home, and Put the Blame on Me, among them. In the end, though, there is no denying the fact that Something for Everybody wasn’t nearly as strong as Elvis Is Back.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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