The first cut is “Love Letters” and it’s a beautiful song. Presley’s voice is all there and then in comes the schizoid background, half-funk and half muzak. And thus it goes for two sides of Presley’s latest. The voice is there, some of the material is OK, James Burton is picking away, the rhythm sounds passable, but oh those strings, horns, background voices, and what not. It’s enough to drown a grown man — precisely what it does to Elvis on this album.
Love Letters is the most discouraging event of the last three years of Presley’s career. It was just about that time that he cut his famous television special which, to me, provided that medium with its ultimate justification. Then followed his exciting recordings in Memphis, topped off with his superb single, one of the finest records of his career, “Suspicious Minds.” Subsequent Memphis recordings were not as successful so Elvis gradually started shifting recording locations, producers (all of whom are uncredited, possibly the only remaining case in the record business where such is the case) and sidemen. Several live Las Vegas albums and middleaged Tom Jones imitations later he came up for a breath of fresh air on Elvis Country. But with Love Letters he once again takes a dive and his admirers everywhere can only hope that it isn’t for the count.
It is amazing how even in the middle of these incredibly schlocky arrangements Elvis can still burn some fire into “Got My Mojo Workin'” and “Cindy, Cindy.” What is even more amazing is how any producer could take that fire and even think to submerge it in the kind of Vegas bar lounge rock context they are given here. The chorus line singing in the background must have surely been paid overtime for this album: they work so hard without getting anywhere.
It would be pointless to berate the out-and-out muzak of the album’s lesser moments, such as “Heart of Rome,” “Only Believe,” and “This Is Our Dance.” The question to ask is, who is this music for? Somehow I expect that even those who have come to Elvis mainly through his nightclub performances expect a little more than they are given on Love Letters From Elvis. And those of us who have loved him from the beginning, and know that he could still be doing it, because every now and then we can still hear him doing it, can only turn away in disgust from this sort of thing.
One gets the impression that Elvis Presley does what his business advisors think will be most profitable. My advice to them: Put Elvis Presley in the studio with a bunch of good, contemporary rockers, lock the studio up, and tell him he can’t come out until he’s done made an album that rocks from beginning to end. You’ll get the best selling Elvis Presley album of the last ten years, and we’ll get Elvis Presley doing what he’s supposed to do. Think about it.