Long before his death 26 years ago this month, August 16, 1977, Elvis had become a tea towel, a keyring, a lunchbox and a hideous porcelain effigy. To this day some folk?Elvis-hating folk?can’t see beyond the kitsch, reminding us that he ‘stole’ the music of black America, never wrote his own material, sang shite songs in shite films and by his final concerts had come to resemble a manatee wrapped in a rhinestone tarpaulin.
Elvis-hating folk delight in telling Elvis-lovin’ folk these established negatives under the misguided premise they’ll burst the sacred bubble. But what Elvis-hating folk fail to appreciate is that the joy of Elvis isn’t based on his girth or his 2D portrayal of chopper pilot Rick Richards in Paradise Hawaiian Style, but on something much more fundamental?his voice. That un-be-fucking-lievable voice. It’s what this box set is all about. How he controlled, unleashed, used and sometimes abused his superhuman vocal cords.
A best-of, a novice’s introduction, a career overview?Close Up is none of these. If you want to take the highfalutin, Greil Marcus stance, call it an ‘essay’ on Elvis’ music making (if you don’t, just call it a random celebration of the greatest pop singer of all time). Eighty-nine tracks over four CDs, every one a previously unreleased alternate take of one kind or another. It’s daunting, it’s gratuitous and it’s fantastic, in that order.
The Elvis reissue treadmill is such that by now it’s easy to be cynical about RCA’s barrel-scraping of the king’s vaults, and admittedly there are times, especially on discs one (“Unreleased Studio Masters From The ’50s”) and four (“Live In Texas ’72”), when Close Up is entertaining but barely enlightening. Not so the misleadingly titled “Unreleased Movie Gems” CD (“Frankfort Special” ain’t no gem, baby!) where we discover that even when singing the shite songs from the shite films, Elvis had standards. During the ludicrous “Slicin’ Sand” he halts proceedings in disgust at the lyric “sand in my sandwich”, changing it before recording recommences.
We also hear the full chandelier-shattering hurricane in his lungs let rip on a handful of takes featuring just Elvis and an acoustic guitar, transforming the usually mediocre “In My Way” into a devout spiritual. This same tangible holiness also pervades disc three, “The Magic Of Nashville”; literally so on “Stand By Me” (the trad gospel hymn, not the Ben E King classic), though even the hillbilly machismo of 1968’s “US Male” is elevated by his godlike tonsils to the realms of rock’n’roll divinity.
So Close Up isn’t about reassessing Elvis, more reiterating what we Elvis-lovin’ folk already know and will never tire of being told. Like him or loathe him, it’s either this or the hideous porcelain effigy. If it’s all right with the Elvis-hating folk, I’ll take this, thangyuvehmuj.