Friday, June 8, 2012

A Soundtrack From King Creole Makes For A Poor Concept Album That Does Not Endure.

The Good: Moments of vocals, Bonus tracks are stylistically interesting
The Bad: Most of the lyrics, Vocals get tired upon repetition, Musically unimaginative, Repetitive tracks.
The Basics: Elvis Presley phones in a concept album about a high school singing superstar who falls out and into love with King Creole.

I tend to loathe reviewing anything that is even possibly interpreted as a soundtrack because invariably when I review such an album from a music-only standpoint, I receive a message from someone saying, "Yes, but if you understand the context within the musical/film/episode (etc.) you would know it's absolute genius!" Then it's usually followed by ad hominem comments on my reviewing. Go figure. And yet, here I am sitting down to review King Creole.

King Creole was one of Elvis Presley's earliest and best received films, but this review is for King Creole, the sixth studio album released by Elvis Presley and RCA. What follows is a review of the music independent of the film (which I have not seen). If you want a comparison between the film and the soundtrack, you'll have to go elsewhere. This review will focus on King Creole as a body of music, presented on this c.d.

That said, it's about time I said "meh." That's the overwhelming impression left by King Creole.

When originally released, King Creole was a eleven-track album clocking in at just under thirty-four minutes. Fortunately for music lovers and those who want to see the most gained by the conversion to compact disc, the remastered version released in 1997 included seven bonus tracks and it now stands as a eighteen-track album that lasts just over forty-six minutes. The problem with it is that it does not stand up; the bonus tracks include only one truly new song ("Danny"), the others are alternate versions of songs that appeared on the original album. As a result, this becomes something of an esoteric album for those who actually love this period in Elvis Presley's musical history. There are three versions of King Creole and "As Long As I Have You" and two versions of "Lover Doll" and "Steadfast, Loyal, And True" on the album, which makes me feel really bad for lambasting Janis Ian for using two versions of the wonderful "Getting Over You" on her album Hunger.

As presented, King Creole almost works as a concept album, though the concept is problematic and self-defeating. The musical protagonist of the album starts as a singer down in New Orleans (“King Creole”), falls in love for what is supposed to be the last time ("As Long As I Have You"), fights with her ("Hard Headed Woman") and turns to the dark side ("Trouble"). After rocking out in the South ("Dixieland Rock"), the man returns to his love though he's phoning in the emotion ("Don't Ask Me Why") and then either his love is reinvigorated or he meets someone new ("Lover Doll"), they establish a relationship over fishing and cooking ("Crawfish"), they make plans together ("Young Dreams"), graduate high school ("Steadfast, Loyal And True") and they go forth into the bayou together ("New Orleans"). Yeah, well, lyrically and musically that's what's happening over the course of the album.

Then the album just degenerates into alternate versions of the same songs, plus the declaration of the protagonist as Danny ("Danny"). I tend to vie for the idea that the break between "Don't Ask Me Why" and "Lover Doll" indicates the protagonist finding a new lover. Why? "Don't Ask Me Why" lyrically might sound fairly decent lyrically, with lines like "How sad my heart would be / If you should go / Though you're not good for me / I want you so / It's not the kind / Of love I dream about / But it's the kind / That I can't live without / You're all I'm longing for / Don't say good-bye / I need you more and more / Don't ask me why" ("Don't Ask Me Why") but the way it is presented contradicts the emotions of the lines. The vocals presented by Elvis are lackluster, the vocal equivalent of being dead-eyed and bored.

Conversely in the lamer lyrical songs like "Lover Doll" and "Young Dreams," the vocals are excited and enthusiastic. Elvis has feminine accompaniment on "Crawfish" (provided by Kitty White) that seems to energize him and his vocals.

My big problem with the album King Creole is that the protagonist of the musical story is unlikable. While songs like "Don't" (which is not on this album) have a timely quality to them that illustrates a desire that more radical elements might want to put into a different context than its place in the past, some of the songs on this album are universally misogynistic and troubling. So, for example, "Don't" sings from a man to a woman the simple message to just not tell him no as he wants to express his love to her. He's not saying he won't respect a "no," he just hopes she won't say it so they can get going. I can dig that. "Hard Headed Woman," on the other hand is just a litany of problematic women throughout history from Eve to Jezebel with the singer basically declaring that women are wrong and evil. There's no real good way to see those lines and the song is just mean, not even dated.

The irony here for me is that I couldn't imagine an album of Elvis Presley's that would have "Hard Headed Woman" where I wouldn't pick that as the low track (honestly loathe that song!) but King Creole has one! "Steadfast, Loyal And True" is dull and uninspired and it's a wonder it appears twice on this album (recorded version and cinematic version). This song is basically a song celebrating an alma matter and it's not rock and roll, and it is not terrible interesting in an auditory way. Following rocking tracks like “King Creole,” "Hard Headed Woman" and "Dixieland Rock" "Steadfast, Loyal And True" just falls flat. Even the ballads like "As Long As I Have You" and "Don't Ask Me Why" fit the album better than "Steadfast, Loyal And True."

On that subject, it is worth noting that this is not the most musically diverse album, though it does have both heavy guitar and drum tracks (“King Creole” and "Hard Headed Woman") and genuine ballads ("As Long As I Have You"). The problem here is that Presley and his people break the first rule of stealing your own sound; keep the tracks separated! "Hard Headed Woman," “King Creole” and to a lesser extent "Dixieland Rock" all have the same sound, so the album does not hold up very well upon multiple listens.

What saves it from being an utter failure? Honestly, it's the quality of "As Long As I Have You" (and the interesting alternate takes of it). Here's a song that explores the true complexities of love with the apparently unflattering line, "You're not my first love / But you're my last" ("As Long As I Have You") and Elvis makes it sound good! Heck, anyone who can make that sound romantic deserves some credit.

Unfortunately, it's not quite enough. Even with the bonus tracks, this is a short album with a rather repetitive sound to it. The best songs on here are on compilation albums and they work better out of context than in this problematic concept album.

The best track is "As Long As I Have You," the low point is the dated school song "Steadfast, Loyal And True."

For other works by Elvis Presley, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Elvis Presley
Loving You
Elvis’ Golden Records
Elvis’ Christmas Album
30 #1 Hits


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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