Top critical review
Elvis in decline in the Seventies
on 24 May 2016
This 1995 boxed-set of selected secular 1970's recordings by Elvis Presley is in top-drawer audio quality. But in his final decade Elvis was unable to ringfence his professional life from his deteriorating personal circumstances, and, as the chronology unfolds, a sharply diminishing return is evident. Elvis's singing voice matured in 1970 and had phenomenal resonance, richness and musicality. However, the King of Rock `n' Roll repositioning himself in his 30's as a country singer (though, when asked, he obfuscated the point) was an accident waiting to happen and in 1970 it happened. The 'On Stage - February 1970' LP did include some barnstorming performances, such as 'See See Rider', 'Polk Salad Annie' and 'Proud Mary'. But the inclusion of 'The Wonder Of You' and Engelbert Humperdinck and Neil Diamond covers hinted at an impending descent into country-pop and showbiz balladry that would come to define jump-suited Elvis In The `70's. We don't know the direction Elvis's career may have taken had his family life been stable. But the distress he experienced when his marriage collapsed in 1971 appears to have unhinged him and triggered a catastrophic crisis. In 1971-72 Elvis taped a cluster of deeply touching, forlorn love songs, but there were soon instances of archival rejects, Las Vegas performances and entire `live' albums being issued because Elvis didn't record enough studio masters to meet his commitments. A handful of 1972 singles - 'Burning Love', 'An American Trilogy' and 'Always On My Mind' - come under the `classic Presley' banner. But Elvis's voice would never again be as fulsome as it had been in 1970, and his albums became littered with deficient songs. Though the producers of this secular set did let the gospel tune 'Amazing Grace' slip in under their radar, they have otherwise been very artful, plundering Elvis's recordings from the decade's first year to give a skewed impression of his work over an eight years timespan. But despite that skilful cherry-picking - and the merciful exclusion of horrors such as `Love Me, Love The Life I Lead', `Girl Of Mine' and `Woman Without Love' - the list of formulaic, bland country offerings here is interminable. `It's A Matter Of Time', `Mr Songman' and `Take Good Care Of Her' are just three examples of drab, sentimental dirges unworthy of Elvis's talents, yet all featured on singles. The 'live' disc that closes this boxed-set could have been edited to appear as a singular, towering concert performance. But some of the splicing and fading between the songs is clumsy, the selections are patchy anyway, and the disc is rounded off with rehearsal material in poor sound quality. (Incidentally, the compilers have included nothing from the 'Madison Square Garden 1972', 'Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis 1974' and 'Elvis In Concert 1977' albums). Unarguably, there are some good, well-recorded performances here: the 1970 material is generally far stronger than what followed and Elvis sings it beautifully; the 'Elvis at the Piano' break-up songs from 1971 are possibly the most poignant and moving of his career; and the big 1972 singles are terrific. However, far too many of these compositions are twee, countrified album-fillers exposed to syrupy post-production overdubs. Elvis's career probably held out the best hope for him to rediscover meaning, purpose and inspiration after the separation in 1971. While singing undemanding, pedestrian, mawkish songs wasn't at the root of his anguish, finding himself on a treadmill churning out these tunes could not have helped. Small wonder that Elvis's recordings sound increasingly bereft of the spine-tingling emotionality, nuanced feel and joy in music-making that had defined his best work.