Some people will accuse me of heresy for what I'm about to say, but I never really could understand why anybody would call Elvis Presley "The King Of Rock And Roll". Perhaps there were a few years in the late 1950s when his music was something special – you get a glimpse of it in the old black and white footage they sometimes show of him from that era – but for the most part he seemed to be the one who led the charge in making rock and roll palatable and safe for those who would be scared of everything real Rock And Roll stands for.
Instead of the raw energy that spoke of freedom and questioned authority, he took the music to Hollywood and Las Vegas and smoothed all its rough edges away. What he performed after he returned from his tour of duty in Germany wasn't going to inspire anyone to change, let alone change the world around them. While other North American and British performers were making music that challenged the status quo, Elvis was being neutered by a desire for fame and fortune. While his apologists can blame his management all they want for the direction his career went, it couldn't have happened without his acquiescence.
The one thing you can't deny about Elvis is the iconic status he managed to achieve and the industry he spawned. Elvis imitators, or tributes as they prefer to be called, have become as ubiquitous as fast food franchises. The majority of these tributes have all the originality and zest of fast food. Their primary goal of how to snag some of Elvis' fame for themselves is more important than any attempt at originality. There have been exceptions to this rule, Dread Zeppelin who did reggae covers of Led Zeppelin material while being fronted by an Elvis impersonator for example, but most others have just worshipped the Elvis icon.
All of which makes the forthcoming release on Mental Records of the CD/DVD combo Back From The Dead by G. G. Elvis & The T.C.P. Band that much more welcome. Billed as a Punk Elvis tribute band G.G.Elvis & The T.C.P. Band (Taking Care Of Punk) have taken the Elvis icon. stood it on its head, and given it the drop kick it desperately needs. Totally irreverent, more than a little rude, and quite a bit crude Back From The Dead features a CD of thirteen thrash/punk versions of Elvis covers, and a DVD mockumentary about the new King himself G.G. Elvis.
It's hard to know where to start when talking about Back From The Dead. Do you start with the inclusion of an intimate scratch and sniff photo, or introduce the band to its breathless public? On the other hand the music is important too, but than there's also the up close and personal interview with G. G. himself on the DVD, which includes the epic tale of how he pulled the band back together. Of course there's also the music video on the DVD which gives adoring fans a chance to see the band in action.
I think in order to fully appreciate the impact of Back From The Dead you'll need to be introduced to the members of the band before we go any further. On guitars we have Elvis of Nazareth and Elvis Vicious, Elvis '56 is handling the bass, "Has-Been" Elvis is on drums, Little Sister sings harmonies, and of course the man himself, G.G. Elvis, sings lead vocals. Now, I know what you're thinking – thrash/punk versions of tunes that Elvis Presley made famous; how can even a band blessed with names like those above carry that off.
Well I'm here to tell you, true believers, that they do it fine style. First of all they've brought their own unique touches to the tunes by blending some of them with classic punk tunes. So on the opening track they have melded "Blitzkrieg Bop" by the Ramones with "That's All Right Mama" by Big Bill Crudup (what? You thought Elvis wrote that tune?) to make a great, hard driving, punk song. Throughout the disc they do things like that to surprisingly good effect. Who would have known that "Holiday's In The Sun" by the Sex Pistols would work so well with "Suspicious Minds"?
In all seriousness though what I found most impressive about this disc musically was how well they performed everything. Sure they play fast and furious and G. G. growls/howls the lyrics, but at the same time the vocal harmonies are right in key. Any discordance you hear is deliberate, not because these folk can't play their instruments or can't sing. Just because it's thrash/punk doesn't mean that the arrangements aren't tight and they can't play note perfect music. I think what's most impressive is how all of the adaptations sound perfectly natural. They haven't just grafted the lyrics of old songs onto a punk sound, but have taken the original tunes and reworked them into something new.
On one hand these discs are of course a send up of the whole Elvis thing, but on the other hand they obviously have an appreciation for the music or they wouldn't have taken the time and the energy to make such skillful adaptations. Of course, the fact that they have made that effort also makes the send up and the joke that much more effective. They really are G. G. Elvis And The Taking Care Of Punk Band, and don't you forget it.
The DVD is a little bit of a let down as they can't sustain what was started with the music and it's somewhat sophomoric with a little too much dependence on toilet humour. The funniest part of the DVD is the music video without audio. They've staged a mock interview show with G.G. and cut away to the band's new music video. We're treated to shot of the band playing away and singing without any audio. After about thirty seconds of this subtitles come on the screen assuring the viewer that there's nothing wrong with their audio system, only they weren't able to afford to pay the Elvis estate synchronization rights to include audio tracks on their video.
The subtitles continue and say they thought about going ahead anyway without getting the rights -"Hey were Punks after all"- but their lawyers told them how much they could end up being sued for and they decided they weren't that punk. I think that sums up what's best about the whole two disc set, is the ability of the people behind the project to poke fun at themselves at the same time as they are poking holes in the Elvis myth.
Back From The Dead, a Punk Elvis tribute, by G.G. Elvis and the T.C.P. Band is an affectionate, and mostly intelligent, parody of Elvis Presely's iconic status in American popular culture. It features thirteen great adaptations of tunes that Elvis recorded, with assists from some classic punk tunes, a silly DVD, and some great musicianship. You can pre-order your copy from Mental Records preparatory to its June release date and pick it up at most of the usual on line suspects once it goes on sale officially.