Elvis and his music spark strong emotions in people. Those emotions are why we’re still talking about him 33 years after his death. Tinkering with that music and, by extension, that man, tends to provoke strong reactions as well.
Though Viva Elvis: The Album charted around the world, it has not exactly been skyrocketing to the top like 2002’s ELV1S: 30 #1 Hits – an album propelled at least partially, incidentally, by the “Elvis vs. JXL” remix version of “A Little Less Conversation.” While I consider it a brilliant and moving tribute, some fans have come out swinging against Viva Elvis. With the album falling in the charts, perhaps I should say that they are kicking Viva Elvis while it’s down.
Over on Elvis Information Network, regular reviewer Arjan Deelen deconstructs the album like a crime scene investigation in “VIVA ELVIS – The King Butchered.” After ripping apart Viva Elvis, Deelen concludes with a simple question, “Are the original recordings not good enough?”
My answer is, of course, they are more than good enough. Elvis’ masters are the best recordings ever made by anyone, anywhere, at any time.
We could debate whether Elvis ever improved “That’s All Right” in his subsequent live performances compared to his 1954 master recording. Some believe it to be his very best recording. If so, why continue to sing the song? Was the original recording not good enough? In fact, why even bother to sing again at all?
Of course, one of the huge differences here is that Elvis had no involvement on Viva Elvis. Whether he would like such a project is also open to debate – but Viva Elvis would not even be necessary if he were still alive. He could make new recordings or even play around with his old recordings on his own. Unfortunately, that’s not an option.
Elvis’ master recordings are like a fine steak dinner. Though I love steak, sometimes I want a cheeseburger. Viva Elvis fills that niche.
Steven B. Roberts on the Elvis Revisited blog begins his look at the project by pulling a Viva Elvis of his own. After calling Viva Elvis a “musical holocaust,” he interjects his own comments throughout a previously published Robin Leach interview with album producer Erich van Tourneau. Like Deelen, Roberts thinks Viva Elvis is more about van Tourneau’s ego than it is about Elvis and his music. Echoing the crime scene sentiment, Roberts states, “If there [are] grounds for any legal action, I suggest they take it against all parties responsible for this atrocity.”
From the interviews I’ve read in the last couple of weeks, van Tourneau seems sincere to me. His words have not set off my ego detector. I’m not sure how someone who did not at least respect Elvis and put in plenty of research time could have produced something of the caliber of Viva Elvis. Incidentally, for the unaltered version of the interview, see “New Viva Elvis album has local tie with Erich Van Tourneau” over on Las Vegas Weekly.
While I enjoy listening to his music placed within a new context from time-to-time, I would be yelling, screaming, and picketing Sony if Viva Elvis: The Album was the only way left to listen to Elvis. It’s not. It’s just one option among many – a fun diversion down a slightly different path from the well-worn but beloved ones we’re used to traveling.
December 1, 2010, UPDATE: Be sure to check out Steve’s full-fledged review of Viva Elvis: The Album over on Elvis Revisited. Surprisingly, he loved it! Just kidding… His critical analysis is well laid out.