23
Jan 18

ELVIS VS JXL – “A Little Less Conversation”

Popular44 comments • 2,920 views

#930, 22nd June 2002

elvis jxl 2002 was the 50th anniversary of the charts, and Elvis had been dead for half those fifty years. The scale of the public reaction upon his death took media observers by surprise; the Elvis industry kept on rolling, turning a star back into an icon. By 2002 the name was still household, the face still instant, his life and death bywords for some kind of American promise, or tragedy, or comedy. What about the music? There, perhaps, was a problem. Was Elvis “relevant”?

“Who cares?” you might ask. To the people who stood to make money off it, that response was naive. But for some there was also a question of cultural propriety – Elvis was the first dead rock’n’roll icon whose work risked losing its audience, fading into a gentle twilight, respected but hardly heard. His partisans might not have put it so crudely, but the impulse was clear – Elvis mattered, and had to be seen to matter. The corpse must be re-powdered and kept on show.

Economic and cultural impulses diverged sometimes, converged sometimes. The 21st century has seen several projects of Elvis reanimation, some grislier than others. On Popular we’re spared the current slop of orchestral Presley versions, but in due time we’ll encounter the most emphatic of all the King’s posthumous headline-grabs. And then there’s JXL, whose “A Little Less Conversation” emerged from the same basic assumption as the current Philharmonic suet: Elvis’ music, without alteration, can’t do the job any more.

The original “Conversation” – Presley’s last US single recorded before the ’68 Comeback Special – is a bouncy, well-played trifle whose demanding come-ons have aged badly, but are at least undercut by the way the song accelerates into cartoon frustration near the end. Rediscovered as an Ocean’s 11 soundtrack cut, the song made its way to JXL with a certain amount of Presley Estate fanfare (the first official remix of the King’s work) and then went global after Nike got hold of it for their – admittedly magnificent – “Scorpion KO” advert featuring Eric Cantona as a referee of celebrity football matches held in a rusting offshore dreadnought.

Nike’s use of it drew the sting of the lyrics’ get-yer-coat-luv hustle, reframing the chorus as a sporting challenge – or simple consumer impatience for the 2002 World Cup to begin. Junkie XL’s springy, route-one beats were a natural fit for the fast-cut highlights-reel montages every football broadcaster was using to sell the game in the galactico era as faster, rushier, more full of tricks and shocks and big names. For sure, watching the World Cup that Summer was a delight, but that was more a novel trick of the time zones – football for breakfast! – than the marketing and staging. Little of its shine has rubbed off on JXL vs Elvis, which summons up the inane grabbiness of the sponsors and merchandisers, but not the game they were exploiting.

And considered as music now? As a track, “A Little Less Conversation” is a dumb-as-rocks interpretation of big beat, with a level of subtlety that makes Norman Cook sound like Brian Eno. But even though every percussion fill, whoop and scratch is calibrated for maximum goonish response, there’s none of the edge-of-disaster playfulness that made big beat bearable, none of the sense you got with Fatboy Slim that this music is being made by mates trying to entertain one another.

As for Elvis, pitched down in the mix and overrun by the party-hard production, he’s a presence here but not much more. “A Little Less Conversation” is a commercially huge dead end as far as the Elvis resurrection project went: it made the King sound like a sample, or worse, a mumbling old man hauled from the grave to MC a party he couldn’t possibly understand.

3

Comments

1 2 All
  1. 31
    Tom on 25 Jan 2018 #

    Yeah the best of they put out rapidly to capitalise on the “Ramp!” moment, anthologising their 90s singles, really is most of what you need by them. All killer no filler! “Get off your shirt and wait for further instruction.”

  2. 32
    Tom on 25 Jan 2018 #

    OMG they had an LP out last year and it features a SPARKS COVER https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwGgBYI-Ku4

  3. 33
    katstevens on 25 Jan 2018 #

    Scooter of course making the genius move of nabbing a #1 album by bundling in a greatest hits disc in with Jumping All Over The World (itself a pretty solid 8/10 ft THE QUO of course). But yeah one of the original dudes left about 5 years ago and the tone of the lyrics def got a bit sleazier after that. I would cautiously say the latest album is a ‘return to form’.

  4. 34
    flahr on 25 Jan 2018 #

    “solid” and “return to form” in the same post but not adjacent :(

  5. 35
    Shiny Dave on 26 Jan 2018 #

    Just noticed: apparently the Scorpion KO/Secret Tournament/The Cage adverts were directed by Terry Gilliam! So Monty Python do have a connection to a bunny.

    (“Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” peaked at 3, which is also where this re-entered in the 2005 re-issue spate that does trouble Popular when we get there.)

  6. 36
    Cumbrian on 26 Jan 2018 #

    #35: Re: Gilliam – because Brazil, presumably.

  7. 37
    AMZ1981 on 26 Jan 2018 #

    As has been noted above, 2002 was the year there was a resurgence of interest in Elvis. However I remember one commentator at the time made the interesting point that one thing you didn’t see much of was the image of Elvis. The 1s album didn’t have a photo on the cover and it did seem to be more about rediscovering the music. I was one of those who bought the compilation and heard a lot of songs that I knew as massive hits by reputation for the first time. It goes without saying that there are paragraphs that could be written about Elvis, who for all his influence and huge success was arguably also one of rock music’s most wasted talents – the most haunting three minutes on 1s, in more than one ways, is In The Ghetto, not only an extraordinary song in its own right but a tantalising hint of what might have been.

    A Little Less Conversation itself is nothing particularly special; we’ve had plenty of examples of songs dug up from the archives, remixed for the clubs and moving into the charts. The fact that it was Elvis and allowed him to snatch the title of all time chart champion from the Beatles added a bit of wider interest. The Beatles had taken Elvis’ lead in 1969 and held it for eight years, followed by fifteen in a joint tie. An 18th Elvis chart topper was never an impossibility but for many years it looked more likely that the Beatles would score again or that Cliff Richard would overhaul both. We will have to have a discussion as to whether Elvis stopped at 18 or carried on until 21 at some point but we can probably park it for now.

  8. 38
    AMZ1981 on 26 Jan 2018 #

    I’d intended to make the post above a `part 1` concerning Elvis before moving on to the non bunnies but there is a footnote to the Elvis discussion. I’m not sure anybody has mentioned that there was a follow up in late 2003 when Paul Oakenfield remixed the equally obscure Rubberneckin’ in an obvious attempt to repeat the trick. It made number five which was good going for a belated follow up to a chart topper with an element of novelty involved.

    Of the non bunnies there’s nothing I can really say about Stop Crying Your Heart Out that I didn’t touch on during The Hindu Times thread. Love At First Sight would be one of my favourite Kylie songs and she’s done a lot of stuff I like. Let’s not overlook the other disco stormer in third place that week; Get Over You by Sophie Ellis Bexter which sounded equally fantastic at the time but hasn’t aged quite as well. The Logical Song was the biggest selling non chart topper of the year outside of the Evergreen bubble that may have been increasing footfall in record shops generally. It gave us a top two of reworked old songs and in all honesty it was the superior of the two.

    Summer 2002 was generally a time of optimism for me and the By The Way album very much soundtracked it. It seemed at the time an almost universal success story; raved over by critics and a huge commercial success that not only crossed genre boundaries but – helped by the `supermarket era` of record buying – even attracted the non record buying demographic. Fifteen years on I appreciate that not everybody rates it; the Chilis’ fans who wanted the funky punky stuff would have considered it a sell out and I can understand why those unaware of what the band had to go through to be able to make such a record in the first place would just have seen it as the epitome of mainstream. By The Way; like a lot of records before and after it became a victim of its own success.

    Despite those huge sales and the fact that it remains one of my ten favourite albums ever By The Way hasn’t quite become the abiding classic I thought it would. It also looked like RHCP were now on a par with the Rolling Stones and U2. That was another thing that didn’t quite happen and maybe that’s because the band never wanted it. Under obvious pressure to deliver By The Way II they delivered Stadium Arcadium where the sprawl was a polite way of pointing out they couldn’t recapture the spirit of 2002. By the time (the forgettable) I’m With You came out in 2009 those who had By The Way on repeat play seven years before didn’t care any more (that includes me).

    And yet, and yet. I’m listening to Dark Necessities now, an album that sounds better every time I hear it. It’s not By The Way but it could have been the follow up. It’s a bit like meeting an old acquaintance who you once had great times with, the conversation is awkward at first but then it all starts to come flooding back in a `fancy another pint` kind of way. Which probably makes it a good time shut up!

  9. 39
    James BC on 26 Jan 2018 #

    I’d compare By The Way to Parallel Lines, in that both are albums where the band is trying a ton of different things, many of them fairly risky, and everything comes off. Even what should be the sillier moments (Cabron, Throw Away Your Television) turn out somewhere between good and great. Sixteen tracks on an album is usually too many, but every song on BTW has a strong idea behind it, a reason to be there, and you can imagine each one being somebody’s favourite.

    The fact that such a great album came out of such an obviously awful idea as funk-rock must be one of the major miracles in music history.

  10. 40
    Fivelongdays on 27 Jan 2018 #

    The By The Way discussion reminds me that this must have been around the time that Idlewild’s GLORIOUS The Remote Part came out. Very, very briefly, it looked like they would be the next British band to go absolutely supernova. It didn’t happen, sadly…but for a few weeks, the weird, artsy, chaotic band that I loved looked like they’d make the really big time. And that was worth SOMETHING.

  11. 41
    Lee Saunders on 27 Jan 2018 #

    Sorry for commenting yet again but I regret my 7. I’ve had this in constant rotation since the review and I really should have gone for an 8.

    While I’m here I’ll sing my praises for Doves’ The Final Broadcast. The Doves were knocked somewhere already in the thread but I find that album lovely (There Goes the Fear was also a #3 hit a few months before this, their joint highest single since they were Sub Sub 9 years before).

  12. 42
    Rory on 29 Jan 2018 #

    #41 Yes, I regret my offhand dig at Doves earlier – it prompted me to listen to The Last Broadcast again, which reminded me why I loved them at the time; “There Goes the Fear” is quite the epic sound. I think it was albums 3 and 4 that lost my interest. Possibly they’re fine too, though, and it was just my attention wandering.

    Re: By the Way: you lot are going to make me listen to a RHCP album all the way through, aren’t you.

  13. 43
    Phaser on 30 Jan 2018 #

    In retrospect, this is a basically-unremarkable version of a basically-unremarkable Elvis song, but at the time I (in all my barely-pubescent glory) was a fan of it because it kept Scooter, which I hated, off the top of the charts.

    I couldn’t remember quite why I hated Scooter so much, so I subjected it to a re-listen, and yep, still not a fan. Largely it’s the singing, a combination of chipmunk irritation and the low-pitched, almost bro-country-esque (at least in the first verse), vocals of Scooter himself.

    As for the RHCP, loved By The Way (the album and the single) at the time and still like it (them) a lot. I tend to see it as the second stepping-stone in a road leading, via Under The Bridge, away from their earlier funkier stuff and towards a more surf-rock, melodic, kind of output, which I honestly like a lot more (full disclosure, I’m With You may be my favourite RCHP album). Much of this has to do with this being the point where Anthony Kiedis apparently lost the conviction that a) he was funny and b) rap was the appropriate medium to express how funny he was.

  14. 44
    lonepilgrim on 9 Feb 2018 #

    It seems appropriate to rework a song from one the movies Elvis sleepwalked through. Half present then his contribution here is a karaoke distillation of familiar Elvis tics. It’s vaguely compelling but I can’t imagine seeking it out or choosing to listen to it

1 2 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page