Moody Blue

Elvis Presley

RCA, 1977

http://www.elvis.com

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/08/2014

After more than 20 years in show business, Elvis had settled down into a comfortable, if somewhat mediocre and predictable rut after 1972.  His comeback in 1968 had revitalized his career and stature in American music, but his ambitions of sustaining that momentum through the 70s stalled after "Burning Love" and his star dimmed from there until his death. Moody Blue encapsulates the situation both he and his record company were in. 

It is surprising that with all the Elvis material that was released during his career and even posthumously, there is a dearth of real studio work, separate from movie soundtracks, which were devoted to releasing a cohesive album. His standard motus operandi after his return from the Army (and especially after the 1968 comeback) was to enter the studio for short stints and record a string of random tracks. After that, he would leave it to RCA and his manager to figure out how to release them. Even then, most Presley staples were released as singles and did not appear on studio albums, though they were often included on the plethora of compilation albums that the vast Elvis machine churned out. Between 1968 and 1977, Elvis entered the actual studio for serious recording only a handful of times. He went to American Sound in 1969 for tracks that yielded From Elvis In Memphis and half of From Memphis To Las Vega /From Las Vegas To Memphis. He went again in 1970 for a marathon that yielded 35 tracks, which RCA spread over several albums, and in 1973 to Stax to produce a similar trove.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In 1976, more tracks were needed by RCA, but rather than heading to a bona fide studio for the work, the King converted the Jungle Room in his mansion into a recording studio and completed an album and a half worth of material. After 1976's From Elvis Presley Boulevard Memphis Tennessee, RCA needed more for the next release but Elvis never showed up for the recording.  Thus, a few months before his death, RCA was forced to release what would be the epitome of a ‘70s Elvis record: leftover ballads and a rocker from the Jungle Room sessions, a few throwaway live tracks recorded in 1977 and a re-release of a live track that had been on a 1974 LP. Had Presley not met his untimely end months after its release, Moody Blue would have been as forgettable as other similar releases. 

That is not to say there are not some decent tracks on the album. "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)" is a country-flavored live track that holds up well, although a more polished studio version might have had more lasting impact. The title track and lead single, "Moody Blue" is a relatable and catchy melody about the uncertainty of relationships, while "Way Down" really stands out as the cream of the crop. It really stands apart from the rest of the album for its pace and polish. And J. D. Sumner's bass voice is rock solid and impressive (as it should be – since for a time he held the world record for the lowest recorded bass note, demonstrated at the end of the track). 

But the rest is just lost in a sea of ballad soup and silliness. "Unchained Melody" and "Little Darlin'" are unserious and trifling; they were probably only included as a last resort because of Presley’s decision to not supply new material. "Let Me Be There" is a strong track, but the exact same live track had been released on Elvis Recorded Live on Stage In Memphis in 1974. And while Presley could sing a ballad like no one else, "She Thinks I Still Care,"  "Pledging My Love,"  "He'll Have To Go" and others just sound the same. 

An artist's final album before a sudden death is usually treated as having a greater significance than it would have had given future releases. This is certainly true of Moody Blue.  Plus, Presley’s lack of studio work left very little to be released as posthumous material, aside from countless live shows and outtakes. Such as it is, posthumous releases have been mostly warmed up collections, repackaged re-releases, and live material. While record companies often rely on unreleased but unheard material after an artist dies, Moody Blue was actually RCA squeezing blood from the stone that was the Elvis catalog while he was still alive.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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