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.

Score: 3

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