If ever a catalog required smart curating, Elvis Presley’s does. There are good examples of that: The Complete 50’s Masters, The Essential 60’s Masters and The Essential 70’s Masters each tell stories about different aspects of the King’s talent. But this mammoth 30-CD collection, consisting of every track Presley recorded during his lifetime, simply reinforces the often-told narrative of his life: an explosive debut in the mid-Fifties followed by intermittent sparks of renewal until his death in 1977.
Obviously, Complete Masters (available only at CompleteElvis.com for $750) is for completists and fat cats only. Which is too bad, since the 103 rarities, outtakes, alternate versions, jams, demos and home recordings — all previously available — portray Presley as he should be remembered: rollicking, intent, joyful. The live material on Disc 29 — including a 1955 tear through Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” and a soaring version of “Unchained Melody” in 1977 — proves that Presley was capable of greatness at every phase of his life. But the later tracks in particular could use some cherry-picking: You shouldn’t have to hear his deeply moving gospel recordings and hits like 1969’s “Suspicious Minds” in the context of his long, dispiriting downward spiral.