Elvis: Today, Tomorrow & Forever
Dead nearly 25 years, Elvis Presley has become passe even for Vegas impressionists and supermarket tabloids. The legacy is tired and bloated, much like the King himself toward the end.
This four-CD boxed set would appear to be just what we don't need more second-rate Elvis. The 100 tracks on "Elvis: Today, Tomorrow & Forever," all previously unreleased, are mostly alternate takes of lesser-known material, which makes it attractive primarily to completists.
Still, the timing for the set could hardly be better because Presley returned to the top of the singles charts in Britain last week with a remix of "A Little Less Conversation." Likely a fluke rather than the start of an Elvismania revival, the hit isn't included here. But the anthology does feature the greatest singer in the history of rock 'n' roll, and there are some fascinating moments.
The performances span Elvis' recording career from 1954 to 1976 and range wildly in quality, with even the liner notes acknowledging that a couple of compositions are awful. A handful of his biggest hits are included, among them "In The Ghetto," "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You." The outtakes are understandably more ragged than the originals but include interesting tweaks in tempo, arrangement or vocal interpretation.
Elvis was never just about music, of course. Stage patter and studio chatter capture his hammy humor, and accompanying the discs are some terrific pictures of our most photogenic rock icon. The liner notes are informative but skimpy, limited mostly to track-by-track commentary by Colin Escott.
The set contains no revelations, only reminders that a quarter-century after his death, Elvis' pioneering talent is underrated and overshadowed by the cartoon King. To explore the Presley catalog is to discover greatness. This may not be the place to start, but with "Today, Tomorrow & Forever," that catalog is now a little richer. Thankyouverymuch.
Nelly gives us a taste of what it's like to live in "Nellyville" on his sophomore disc a world filled with clever hooks, catchy rhymes and just plain fun.
Nelly brings star power to this album, something he didn't do with his multi-platinum debut, "Country Grammar." He teams up with Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child on "Dilemma" and 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake on "Work It." His crew, the St. Lunatics, are omnipresent.
But it's Nelly alone who makes the disc a winner.
"Pimp Juice," a laid-back track with a '70s theme, is the most amusing song, with Nelly explaining how he gets rid of women who use him for his money and fame. Other hot jams are "Air Force Ones" and the steamy hit "Hot In Herre," a blunt invitation for women to shed their clothes.
About the only time he diverges from the party atmosphere is on "Roc the Mic-Remix." On that track, he verbally assaults new nemesis KRS-One, saying the old school rapper is washed up and in need of a pension plan.
"Nellyville" is a place you'd gladly want to visit again and again.
Born to Reign
It's hard to figure out the appeal of Will Smith as a rapper.
Even though the recent Oscar-nominated actor got his start rapping and won the genre's first Grammy, he's only got so-so rhyming skills and his lyrics can be borderline corny.
Yet he's got an undeniable charm that comes across even on CD. Pair him with a smooth groove and it's hard to get him out of your system.
"Born to Reign" is the best example of that puzzling appeal. At times, Smith is lyrically lazy: He borrows from well-known verses of other people's hits, and the rhymes seem amateurish on tracks like "Black Suits Comin"' and "Act Like You Know."
But on others, like "1000 Kisses" (featuring Jada Pinkett Smith, his actress-wife), he rises to the occasion, delivering a sweet and sexy valentine to her. "Momma Knows" is a touching tribute reminiscent of his hit "Just the Two Of Us."
Smith also chooses his music samples well, selecting from can't-miss classics such as Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much." He also gets a major assist from his new protege Tra-Knox, an R&B trio whose silky soul you'll want to hear more of.