Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Uninspired Elvis Love: The Obscure Love Songs By Elvis Presley Is Not Worth Tracking Down.

The Good: Some of the tracks are true gems, moments of voice or lyrics
The Bad: A number of lesser songs,many of which aren't truly about love.Nothing new or original.
The Basics: A strangely unromantic collection of songs, many of which arguably aren't even love songs mires this Elvis Presley compilation.

As my steady diet of the music of Elvis Presley comes to an end (yea!) I am faced with the ever worsening selection of discs to choose from. The obscure compilation Love Songs is my last proper Elvis disc and it comes on the heels of a similarly themed Heart & Soul, which immediately begs the question "What's the point?" Most of Presley's songs, as it turns out, are either love songs or laments about the loss of love, so if one follows through on the theme, it seems like there would be a virtually unlimited supply of tracks to make compilations from. But at what point are the compilations less valuable and more a shameless attempt to make a buck off of Brand Elvis?

Whatever the point that separates the two, Love Songs appears firmly on the wrong side of that line.

With only eighteen tracks clocking in at less than an hour Love Songs represents a fairly lame collection of studio cuts of well-known Elvis Presley songs. There are no surprises here, nothing shocking and previously unheard from Elvis. Indeed, the album opens with the most intriguing track for those looking for something other than the typical Elvis Standards: Presley's cover of "Unchained Melody." Fully backed by his late-Elvis orchestra, Presley spurts through the song with little passion and less originality.

Those who might take my advice and pick up Heart & Soul will find that Love Songs is attempting to exploit the same niche with less impressive results. As a matter of fact, Love Songs duplicates six tracks from the earlier compilation. Out of the thousands of performances and recordings, to issues a c.d. that is thematically identical to another compilation with one-third of the same material is just pathetic. Of course, it's hard to imagine a love-song c.d. of Elvis Presley's without "Love Me Tender," and maybe even "Can't Help Falling In Love," but reusing "It's Now Or Never," "Suspicious Minds" (which, I'm sorry, hardly qualifies as a love song!), "She's Not You" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" just seems intellectually lazy of the album's producers.

On Love Songs, it's all about production and arrangement as this is a pure compilation of tracks that have all been released (many on several occasions) previously and represent a strangely limited vocal range for Presley while making a broader thematic album. Indeed, sometimes, it seems like the only thing that truly binds these songs is the use of the word "love" somewhere in the piece.

Take, for example, "Puppet On A String," one of Presley's less remarkable endeavors. Arguably more about the helplessness that comes from infatuation, Presley sings "Take my heart and please be fair / Handle it with loving care / For I'm just a puppet on a string / You can do most anything to me / If you really love me / Darling please be kind / I offer you the truest love / That you will ever find . . ." ("Puppet On A String") with little more than a singsong presentation of the lyrics. There's no zest, no tragedy even of being heartwrenched. Instead, it feels and sounds - and reads in the lyrics - like a dumb pop song, more concerned with rhyme than substance.

This is not to say the album is all bad lyrically, though "Good Luck Charm" is not likely to win any big-time lyrics awards, after all Love Songs does contain the poetic "Love Me Tender," the classic "Unchained Melody" and the tongue-in-cheek horror of "She's Not You." Lyrically, the standout on Love Songs among all of the oft-used tracks might well be "Kentucky Rain." Far more a song about loss - one might suspect those who put together these compilations have lost a lot more than loved - the song, written by Eddie Rabbit and Dick Heard has Presley singing, "Seven lonely days / And a dozen towns ago / I reached out one night / And you were gone / Don't know why you'd run, / What you're running to or from / All I know is I want to bring you home / So I'm walking in the rain, / Thumbing for a ride / On this lonely Kentucky backroad / I've loved you much too long / And my love's too strong / To let you go, never knowing / What went wrong . . ." ("Kentucky Rain"). Presley becomes almost a rocking folk singer with the storytelling nature of the song and it is truly a treat, especially compared to some of his much more common tracks.

Moreover, the end of the album seems even more confused. There's not a real good argument to be made that god's love isn't a worthwhile love to sing about on an album of love songs, but tracks like "You Gave Me A Mountain" and especially "Wonder Of You" do seem to be more often interpreted as a higher form of love Presley is singing about, as opposed to the romantic love on more of the tracks. So, between the godly love and the number of tracks expressing more of a sense of loss than the joys of love, Love Songs is hardly an upbeat, romantic compilation.

Sadly, though, for anyone looking for Presley's talent, Love Songs illustrates Elvis far more often as the straight-out performer as opposed to an artist. Unlike many albums where he accompanies most of the songs on his guitar, many of these tracks, like "Suspicious Minds" and "Unchained Melody" simply have Elvis crooning as opposed to actually playing any instruments. It becomes easy to imagine Presley singing to a lounge audience as opposed to rocking out with these songs.

This is not to say that Presley's vocal performances are poor in this compilation. Presley proves his ability to make one swoon with his voice with tracks like "Spanish Eyes" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" The only real problem vocally is that Presley's range seems to be limited on this compilation. Vocally, "It's Now Or Never" and "Suspicious Minds" are very similar and the ear acclimates to this easily.

Musically, the album bounces between stark, almost acoustic tracks ("Love Me Tender," "Can't Help Falling In Love") and bigger, rich band tracks like "Wonder Of You" and "Suspicious Minds." The production elements on the bigger sounding tracks are adequate and well-considered.

Ultimately, though, all of these songs are available elsewhere and it seems like there are other, better compilations for expressing Presley's penchant for songs of love. Heart & Soul had more recognizable and generally better caliber tracks. Here, it feels like those who control Brand Elvis were just trying to make a buck. And there's nothing romantic about that.

The best track is "Suspicious Minds," the most incongruent track is "Separate Ways."

For other works by Elvis Presley, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Elvis Presley
Loving You
Elvis’ Golden Records
Elvis’ Christmas Album
King Creole
For LP Fans Only
A Date With Elvis
50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis’ Gold Records Volume 2
Today, Tomorrow, And Forever
Heart And Soul
King Of Rock: The Complete 50's Masters
30 #1 Hits


Check out my Music Review Index Page for a comprehensive list of all the albums and singles I have reviewed!

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