fri 15/12/2017

CD: Christmas with Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Christmas with Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

CD: Christmas with Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

The ghost of Presley past

Elvis will be home for Christmas... but only in your dreams

It’s that time of year again, and we’re forced to endure crap Christmas songs while waiting to pay for milk and loo rolls. The fingers of one hand are sufficient for listing the world’s only good Christmas albums and songs: Phil Spector’s Christmas Album, “Fairytale of New York”, “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”, “Merry Christmas Everybody” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas”. OK, that includes a thumb. As a child I was a great fan of “Little Donkey” by Nina and Frederick, and Harry Belafonte’s “Mary’s Boy Child”, with its faint hint of calypso. From Joan Baez’s long-ago Christmas album, beautifully arranged by Peter Schickele, I still have a soft spot for “Carol of the Birds” and “Cantique de Noel” – but they were never intended as chart toppers and her voice was then ethereal.

Elvis from Beyond the Grave with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is the audio equivalent of a chocolate yule log you’d buy at Poundland, its origins uncertain, its effects at best cloying. Remastering is one thing, but this ongoing trend for duets with the dead and “concerts” involving holograms of the departed is a bridge too far. Elvis left the building several decades ago but he’s just enjoyed a “six-date engagement” touring the UK. Poor old Elvis: exploited in life by Col Parker and in death by his ex-wife.

The RPO has long been a band for hire and without endeavours such as these it would probably be a case of RPO RIP. Priscilla Presley has no such excuse and while the King did indeed have a penchant for both schmaltz and God, it’s not clear that he would be “smiling” on these extra-syrupy re-treads. Then again, he had pretty terrible taste.

The CD brings together Elvis’ Christmas Album from 1957, when his voice was golden, with Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas (1971), when it, and much else, had tarnished. There’s the odd OK moment: Lieber and Stoller’s “Santa Claus is Back in Town” is not-bad R&B, once you’ve got passed the intro, and “Blue Christmas”, on which he’s backed by the great Jordanaires, was one he made into a country Christmas classic. As for what have been called Elvis’s “signature interpretations of secular and sacred holiday classics”? Discuss.

It’s pure 1950s – which is of course entirely appropriate given where Britain is headed. If you're into it, the DeLuxe Edition features four “bonus” tracks released originally as The Peace in the Valley EP. Make sure you have a good supply of Rennies.

Liz Thomson's website

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