Review: Elvis is Back! (Legacy Edition)
Despite the title, it is very hard to look at this classic 1960 album as any sort of comeback by modern standards. Indeed, it now seems like yet another area in which Elvis Presley was an innovator. These days fans expect to wait (at least) two years between albums by their favorite artists, but in 1958, when artists released two or three albums a year, most critics would have considered Elvis’s induction into the U.S. Army the end of his career. But he stunned them all when, within mere months of returning home, he released Elvis is Back!, one of the greatest albums of his career and the album that introduced the kinder, gentler Elvis persona that he would maintain, for better or worse, for the rest of his career.
Elvis is Back! opens very strongly with the 1-2 punch of the midtempo pop number “Make Me Know It” and his sultry take on Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and from there runs the gamut from gospel-like productions (“Thrill of Your Love”) to dirty blues (“Like a Baby”) to his signature brand of rock (“Such a Night”). Still, Elvis and the supporting cast of Nashville’s finest seemed to be primarily focused on memorable and melodic pop tunes during the sessions and as a result, that material makes up the bulk of album. From his passionate take on “Soldier Boy,” to the phenomenal performance of “Girl Next Door Went a-Walkin’,” a tune that wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on the pop charts a decade earlier, Elvis seems determined to take back his throne from the so-called “teen idols” who had captured it in his absence by proving to himself and the world that he can beat them at their own game.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the singles from these sessions, which are included here as bonus tracks and the fact that, 50 years after they were recorded, I don’t have to elaborate on songs like “Stuck On You,” “It’s Now or Never,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” or “Surrender” is a true testament to the quality of both the songs and the performer.
In short, Elvis is Back!, while not quite as essential as Presley’s revolutionary ’50s recordings, 1969’s From Elvis in Memphis, or even 1976’s bittersweet From Elvis Presley Boulevard, is a stunning record that any fan of rock or pop music should have in their collection.
Disc two of set features another album from the following year, Something for Everybody. This album is very similar to the quieter moments on Elvis is Back! and the performances are of a stellar quality. The first half of the album features some very good ballads (notably “There’s Always Me” and the aptly-named “Gently”) while the second half contains more upbeat material, such as the Charlie Rich-penned rocker “I’m Comin’ Home.” Despite these and other standouts the material on this album overall is not quite as strong as it’s predecessor which is one thing that holds it back from essential status. Rock music was still very much in the “singles era” at the time and Elvis makes up for this on the disc’s bonus tracks, songs like “Little Sister,” “Good Luck Charm,” and “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame,” which will be familiar even to non-fans.
It’s clear that Elvis is Back! is a masterpiece and Something for Everybody more than holds it’s own, but is this “Legacy Edition” worth checking out? That all depends on several factors, most importantly whether or not you already have these albums in your collection. If you choose to pick it up, you will be treated to some beautiful packaging and wonderful liner notes from Stuart Colman, but the real story is that for the past few years, a record label has finally been treating the most mishandled catalog in history with some respect. Here’s hoping that they keep up the great work.