On his new album, Danzig Sings Elvis, Glenn Danzig sings the songs of Elvis Presley.
It seems ridiculous to have to point that out, but in our modern culture of constant irony it’s worth mentioning. The album title itself could be the sort of faux-sincerity that someone would put on something totally unrelated as a joke. Even the album cover itself seems like the sort of thing that could be a sight gag in a sitcom episode about a metal icon’s absurd vanity project.
But no, like “Snakes on a Plane” before it, it’s exactly what it says it is. Unlike “Snakes on a Plane,” however, it’s entirely earnest. Danzig is clearly a man who loves Elvis, and he channeled his love into an album of covers of what one assumes are his favorite Elvis songs. He called it what it is and he released it. There’s no joke.
Perhaps it may sound like I’m making fun of Danzig, but that’s absolutely not the case. Quite the opposite. The sincere earnestness and unironic love of the source material is the best part of Danzig Sings Elvis. The once and future Misfits frontman paying tribute to an artist he admires by singing the songs he loves is a beautiful thing and turns the album’s flaws into endearing highlights.
That’s not to say the flaws dominate the music, of course. But first a warning: Danzig chose deep cuts to cover. The biggest hit among the selections is “Always On My Mind,” which Elvis covered in 1972 after separating from his wife; and “Fever,” another song Elvis covered but which you know from the far more famous versions by Peggy Lee, Beyonce, or Madonna’s regrettable 1992 dance version.
The rest are songs that you’re likely to be hearing for the first time unless you listen to entire Elvis albums. In addition to giving Danzig some serious Elvis fan street credibility, it makes the material feel fresh more than inaccessible. Anyone would pale in comparison to the King so it’s best to avoid the automatic association, and his apparent connection to the songs absolutely helps.
As for the music itself, when the song suits his style and range, Danzig really does sound like Elvis. The first two tracks, especially—”It Is So Strange” and “One Night”—could very well be performed by Elvis himself. The biggest tells aren’t in the vocals but in the production quality; the instrumentals have the clarity and precision of a modern recording, but the vocals have that sort of tinny tone and slight reverb that rock songs had in the ’50s.
Replicating that sound had to be a conscious choice; it just doesn’t happen by itself anymore. And it’s a perfectly valid choice considering the theme of the album. But whether it’s due to using a period-appropriate microphone or recording techniques, or applying a filter in production, if Danzig was going to go that route he should have gone all the way and applied it to the whole track. Vocals from a different era than the rest of the song stick out.
It’s also a bit odd that the intensity of the effect varies from song to song. “Lonely Blue Boy” hardly has it at all and is likewise one of the most cohesive songs on the album. The following “First in Line” has the effect turned up to 11—to its detriment.
“First in Line” is also the first song where Danzig occasionally overestimates his ability to sing Elvis. There are points where he clearly doesn’t have Presley’s range. But rather than rearranging the song to suit his voice, he just flattens off the note. It was not a good call. Paying respect to Elvis is one thing, but it’s also important to be Danzig, otherwise it comes off as an impression.
Fortunately, the recovery is quick with the uptempo rockabilly of “Baby Let’s Play House,” which is easily the most fun song in this collection. Danzig’s serious intensity still comes through, somehow. That’s impressive in itself, but it’s impossible for any amount of intensity to overshadow the inherent joy of good rockabilly.
The rest is more melancholy, which suits the singer much better. The minimalist “Pocket Full of Rainbows,” for example, is a highlight of Danzig’s emotional connection to the music, and shines behind his vocals. He also pulls off the bluesier “When It Rains It Really Pours,” which will likely be the biggest surprise for people who mostly know him for songs like “Last Caress” and “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?”
In the end, the production of the songs becomes secondary. The appeal is listening to someone do something he loves for no reason other than because he loves it. Danzig certainly didn’t go into this album expecting it to be a profitable smash hit, and thanks to a long and successful career he doesn’t need it to be. There’s no shallowness to his motives.
Danzig put his heart and soul into these songs and it shows. And sometimes what we need to hear is an artist performing from the heart.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.