- Reviewed by Piers Beagley -
After sharing too much whisky & late-night Country laments with Elvis recently, Easter weekend was the perfect time for me to get some redemption & Inspiration! To help me is ‘Elvis – Inspirational’, the third in the new BMG "genre" series.
BMG/RCA have produced a large selection of sacred & Gospel compilations in the past - two of the most recent being the fabulous ‘Ultimate Gospel’ and 2003’s ‘Christmas; Peace’ which sold well via the popularity of ‘Elvis 30 #1s’.
This selection is obviously aimed at the general public, who might have recently bought these 2 CDs or possibly ‘Love – Elvis’ or ‘Elvis By The Presleys’. Again the main theme of the CD is Elvis’ seventies recordings attempting to create a musically consistent feel. In fact all of the tracks are from the last 10 years of Elvis life, apart from ‘Crying In The Chapel’ & ‘How Great Thou Art.’
The cover design is the weakest of the 3 CDs and Elvis seems almost invisible underneath the dark-blue colour. A little more creativity could have seen him ‘reaching for the light’, which would have been a better image for the CD’s concept.
The sleeve notes again explain the theme of the CD.
The cover describes ‘If I Can Dream’ as the startling climax of the ’68 Special and the show-stopper, so it is extremely odd that it is ‘If I Can Dream’ that starts the CD! After all these years it doesn’t quite seem right. Not only that, but it was recently featured on the ‘Elvis By The Presleys’ – as were other tracks. Surely if the Elvis standards ‘In The Ghetto’ & ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ need to be included once again, then BMG/Ernst should have chosen alternate takes? ‘Crying In The Chapel’ also seems all-too familiar as the second track.
‘Amazing Grace’ (also on ‘Ultimate Gospel’ & ‘Christmas; Peace’!) is the first track that really makes me settle into the Inspirational vibe, and ‘Danny Boy’ that follows is a nice touch. Again there are some interesting, more obscure, tracks like ‘And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind’ and ‘I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen’ (original orchestral version) but I have never understood Ernst’s interest in the lame movie-song ‘Wonderful World’ which seems very out-of-place between ‘Only Believe’ and ‘Bridge’. I also think that ‘A Thing Called Love’ is one of Elvis’ non-movie songs that has aged very badly & won’t help attract any new fans.
Possible other "rarer" inclusions, that would have suited the concept, could have been the powerful ‘Without Love’, ‘Where Could I Go, But To The Lord’ or the sensitive ‘Stand By Me’ instead.
However, as a positive, the sentiment of tracks like ‘Help Me’ and ‘Only Believe’ again work better in this context than in their original albums (‘Promised Land’ & ‘Love Letters’). There is also the delight in hearing Elvis’ comments restored at the start of ‘The Impossible Dream’.
Few people would be buying this because of the, front-cover advertised, new improved "DSD optimum Sound." The reality is that majority have been taken from the recent upgrades (‘Elvis By The Presleys’ etc) and although the others are a little clearer & richer than previously, they are not from the ‘original studio Masters’ which made ‘Ultimate Gospel’ & ‘Elvis 30#1s’ sound so damn good.
For instance ‘If I Can Dream’ is the same version from ‘2nd To None’ & ‘Elvis By The Presleys’ but ‘Crying In The Chapel’ & ‘In The Ghetto’ are not the audio beauties found on ‘Elvis 30 #1s’. While songs like ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind’ do have a richer sound than earlier releases (‘Moody Blue’, ‘Suspicious Minds’) overall there is no noticeable dramatic sound upgrade. At least it is the excellent upgraded ‘Ultimate Gospel’ versions that are used here.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some truly great Inspirational tracks here (‘If That Isn’t Love’, ‘Amazing Grace’..) but I just cannot see that this compile overall would inspire new fans to explore Elvis’ gospel-rich back-catalogue any further. And surely that is what these genre selections are all about, - To inspire a new generation of Elvis fans?
Perhaps the best is saved for last with a very different mix of ‘The Impossible Dream’ from ‘On Stage’. After a weekend of listening I’m still not sure if this is good or bad, as now Elvis’ vocal is almost buried underneath the gorgeous rich mix of the band & Orchestra! Compared to the CD version it almost sounds like a different recording! The joy is the addition of Elvis saying, "We’ve got to do another one, so just hang loose". It is a lovely outro to the disc.
Verdict – Compared to the other two ‘genre’ releases this selection is a let-down and just doesn’t have the same appeal. Maybe the CD feels limited by the available ‘inspirational’ tracks that Elvis recorded in the seventies, along with some unfortunate old-fashioned choices. There is a musical patchiness that still doesn’t work even after an Easter weekend of soul-searching. This is truly a shame, as I genuinely understand how awe-inspiring Elvis’ music can be.
"Elvis Presley is the supreme socio-cultural icon in the history of pop culture"
(Dr. Gary Enders)
"Elvis is the 'glue' which holds our society together....which subconciously gives our world meaning"
"Eventually everybody has to die, except Elvis"
(humorist Dave Barry)
"He is the "Big Bang", and the universe he detonated is still expanding, the pieces are still flying"
(Greil Marcus, "Dead Elvis")
"I think Elvis Presley will never be solved"
"He was the most popular man that ever walked on this planet since Christ himself was here"