My God! Another live album from my hero. He’s turning them out as fast as he once made movie soundtracks. And with as little point, in view of the fact that the material, patter, structure and sound vary so little from record to record. On the other hand, they sell better than his current studio albums, and those haven’t exactly been aesthetic triumphs, so maybe there is some logic to it.
Just the same, “Suspicious Minds” has been released live from Las Vegas, Madison Square Garden and Hawaii and not one of these versions comes close to the sheer artistry of the Memphis studio original. The live “Burning Love” is a mockery of Elvis’ best single since “Suspicious Minds.” The “American Trilogy,” El’s version of Mickey Newbury’s simple but effective blending of “Dixie,” “All My Trials” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” doesn’t generate anything near the power of actually seeing him do it.
In the enjoyable documentary Elvis On Tour he turns his performance into a visual drama. By contrast, the live recording magnifies the worst element of Elvis’ stage show — the simplistic horn arrangements, poorly performed — while the film magnifies the depth of Elvis’ commitment to the music.
I usually enjoy hearing him do the ballad staples he became identified with during the movie phase, especially the by-now haunting “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” with which he closes each concert (and here given its worst recording yet). But when he strays into the pure Caesar’s Palace repertory that includes “What Now My Love,” “You Gave Me a Mountain,” and “My Way,” depression easily crosses over the line into disgust.
As usual, Elvis trys his hand with some recently popular chart material; thus, a mediocre “Something in the Way She Moves,” and a bloated “Steamroller Blues,” only partially salvaged by some elegant James Burton lead guitar. The band is impersonal but astoundingly tight and professional throughout.
Charlie Gillett once noted that in his early records Elvis sang at the top of his vocal range but that soon after the move to RCA he started singing lower. The high notes were the mark of an innocently beautiful approach to rock & roll singing, the bass ones more symptomatic of his penchant for self-mockery. And on this album he seldom crawls past the middle register at all, a sure sign of what he’s thinking about himself.
There are moments when he pushes past every fault of the format and generates not just smoke but fire — as on a rousing “See See Rider.” But it is his good moments more than the bad ones that remind me of Greil Marcus’ comment that Elvis Presley’s whole career has been a throwaway. Albums like this one prove he was right. It is just that when I hear in the smallest ray of hope — like the interplay between Presley’s voice, Burton’s guitar, and Ronny Tutt’s drums on “Rider” — that I remember that there isn’t a reason in the world why he couldn’t make an album that was good from beginning to end. Does he have to throw it all away?