Elvis Presley Sings the Great British Songbook Review

Compilation. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

A bizarre release that fans of The King probably won’t rush to buy.

Sean Egan 2010

Elvis Presley Sings the Great British Songbook is not, as the title might lead you to assume, a cache of hitherto unknown renditions by The King of the likes of Rule Britannia. Rather, it is a two-CD collection of previously released recordings whose common factor is simply that the songs’ composers were all born in (to paraphrase the artist) this here United Kingdom.

It makes a half-hearted attempt to assert some sort of logic to its existence via liner notes that discuss the UK music publishing house of Freddy Bienstock, who found songs for Presley. However, Bienstock was hardly responsible for Elvis’ version of the 18th century O Come, All Ye Faithful, nor the quartet of Beatles covers. Which leaves the problem that no stylistic thread links material that happens to originate from one country – apart from, ironically, the Americana most modern popular music is steeped in. As might be expected, therefore, this collection lurches between styles, periods and tones quite haphazardly. The sense of conceptual inanity is not helped by fawning and almost disingenuous liner notes by Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain head Todd Slaughter (who unforgivably misspells Jerry Leiber’s surname and Freddy Bienstock’s forename).

One could forgive the essential randomness of the selection if what was in the metaphorical grooves was consistent with Elvis’ talent. Unfortunately, it falls down here too, and for a reason that’s not unrelated to the album’s theme. The point in history at which Presley began to look further than his homeland for material was also the juncture at which he began to lean toward maudlin and overwrought material, such as the Engelbert Humperdinck-like This Is Our Dance. When he does tackle a quality number, he's not averse to ruining it, such as the way during a live version of George Harrison’s Something he throws in disrespectful interjections like “Hot damn” and “Yeah, baby.” Not that there aren’t gems – this is Elvis after all – but the heart-wracked (and heartfelt) divorce song My Boy, the funky Let Me Be There and the incandescent gospel classic How Great Thou Art drown in a sea of well-crafted but soporific balladry.

So who’s going to be buying? Elvis fans will already possess the songs herein while even newcomers will understand that the selections are in no way representative of the artist. A bizarre release.

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