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Elvis Presley

RCA APL1-1039
Released: May 1975
Chart Peak: #57
Weeks Charted: 13

Elvis PresleyElvis Presley is the greatest singer in the history of rock & roll. As each of his frustratingly mediocre albums appears, we are forcibly reminded of that fact. There is almost nothing on any of them to keep us listening. But I have never heard an Elvis record which didn't reveal something about the man and his capabililties and therefore, somehow, about everyone's. Instinctively and accidentally, Presley's product (with no other artist does that term have such resonance) teaches us what charisma means.

Elvis throws away the best line on Today -- "Have a laugh on me, I can help" -- with what seems to be transparent smugness. The words invite the dismissal of everything on the record but, as always, there is a catch.

Today catalogs perfectly the undeniable stylistic and creative decline of every Sun artist, makes us realize how much more than a match Elvis was for them and how canny he has been in avoiding the burnout. (If he has done it by fizzling out, that does not necessarily lessen the achievement. Name someone else who has been able to remain continuously fascinating for 20 years.)

Superficially, nearly every song on this album would have been better off in the hands of one of the other Sun singers, or one of Presley's latter-day imitators. "T-R-O-U-B-L-E," the latest chart number, is made for Jerry Lee Lewis. It begs Elvis to romp, stomp and rip it to shreds. He declines the honor, but not without giving an indication, here and there, that he could if he wanted to. In his refusal, we can see simultaneously the genius of Presley and Colonel Parker in avoiding the issue, and the brilliance of Lewis, the only Sun artist who has retained any of his power with something like consistency.

"I Can Help" is perhaps more suited to Presley's peculiar talents than any other song in the last decade. It is a gountlet thrown, and he picks it up without reluctance. But with such a twist! Here is a song meant to evoke everything the early Memphis sound meant, and what does he do with it? He takes it to Vegas. Only a truly inspired -- or truly arrogant -- man would have had the thought, much less the courage, to carry it through.

"Pieces of My Life" is actually the song Charlie Rich now uses to close his debilitated live performances. Presley's version is no less banal, but it is somehow richer. Anyone who has ever thought Rich might be the man to match Elvis's voice -- I confess the heresy -- will find his hopes (or fears) dashed here. "Susan When She Tried" is pure Johnny Cash. And with "Green, Green Grass of Home," Elvis, with his usual lack of commitment, manages to mock not only Tom Jones but the very idea of a return home (Even to Memphis, source of his fertility).

Bruce Springsteen sums it up perfectly, just before rocking into a version of "Wear My Ring around Your Neck" that might make the master smile. "There have been contenders," he says, "there have been pretenders. But there is only one king." Long may he reign.

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone, 7/3/75.

Bonus Reviews!

Hats off to the King, folks. He's in superb voice, his performances are models of power, detail, and discretion, occasionally relieved by a wail of joyful release, and he graces any song (and there are some unsold fish amongst the material here) with his long experience, master craftsmanship, and unique will to thrill. The techniques and disciplines of making a studio recording -- which Presley understands -- make a good case for putting a tiger in a cage; it brings out more of the tiger. His live albums are disappointing.

What makes Today especially exciting is the sense of camaraderie. Presley is obviously enjoying himself, and the musicians supporting him give that extra oomph that is possible only at a happy session. At several moments it seems that Presley is summing up his own career, demonstrating what he has learned and referring to his early days. Throughout the proceedings he displays his natural, infallible sense of what was considered shocking when his career began but is better understood today -- that great music (or a great musician) is basically sensual. That sensuality may be tempered, disciplined, buried, or wildly misplaced, but it is the root. Presley always understood his roots.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 10/75.

This is the most versatile and energetic album Presley has come up with in several releases. The last two LPs have been a bit lackluster, both vocally and material wise. Here, however, Elvis seems to be putting some of the old power back into his singing and has chosen a selection of country contemporary hits, country standards, current pop hits, rock oldies and his own current hit, 'T-R-O-U-B-L-E." Singing is less forced than on recent albums, choice of material seems much more natural to the artist and musical backup is simple yet effective. Production also gives more emphasis to the vocals, rather than merging them with the instruments. Most impressive, however, is the return of expressiveness, emotion and strength to the voice. Best cuts: "T-R-O-U-B-L-E," "Susan When She Tried," "Shake A Hand," "Pieces Of My Life," "Fairytale," "I Can Help."

- Billboard, 1975.

Elvis Today is often cited by writers as Elvis's uncertain return to his Sun origins. There really isn't that much difference from the trio that resulted from 1973's Stax sessions, with the lesser tracks being a bit more substantial. The sound is better but the packaging had become, at this point, practically offensive: One color close-up after another, almost all from the Aloha from Hawaii special (or that pre-bloated period), back covers with no noted or technical data, just ads for other Presley Product. Still, an album with "Susan When She Tried," "T-R-O-U-B-L-E," and a hilariously appropriate reading of "I Can Help" is worth listening to any time. * * *

- Neal Umphred, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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