Aside from the two installments of his demonic classical song cycle, Black Aria I and II, Glenn Danzig has released only two recordings outside of the group context—not with the band Danzig, but as Glenn Danzig. In 1981, he reclaimed the Misfits’ “Who Killed Marilyn?” and “Spook City U.S.A” for a 7-inch single on his own Plan 9 Records. In 2020, he rolled out the disarmingly gentle Danzig Sings Elvis LP for Cleopatra Records, featuring 14 deep cuts from the catalog of the King of Kings.
When viewed as bookends of a nearly 40-year stretch of his career, both of these offerings illuminate a more mysterious, and a more human side of Danzig’s voice, presence, and persona.
The Misfits took their name from director John Huston’s 1961 film of the same name. When it comes to Elvis Presley’s influence, every punk kid in America recognized it the first time they dropped a needle on the Misfits’ 1982 LP Walk Among Us and heard that rockabilly werewolf howl unleashed in “I Turned into a Martian,” Vampira,” and “Night of the Living Dead.”
The film, The Misfits, was the last feature-length movie in which Marilyn Monroe starred before her untimely death—the culmination of depression and work-related exhaustion from trying to beat the public’s perceptions about her, chronic insomnia, and consuming prescription drugs upon drugs and alcohol.
Elvis left the building under similar circumstances. Both Presley and Monroe were such larger than life stars that their deaths have been surrounded by decades of speculation, rumor, and conspiracy theories.
This dark history and mythology is subconsciously transmitted when Danzig eases into the first lines of “Is It So Strange,” the opening number from Danzig Sings Elvis. His voice reveals subtle depth as he drops the Danzig facade that he has honed since the 1970s. There’s a sensitive, passionate human behind his barrel-chested bark, and he’s more of a multi-dimensional character than we’ve been led to believe.
Danzig’s voice has softened over the years. The full-throttle yowl of “Mother,” “Her Black Wings,” “Dirty Black Summer,” “Kiss the Skull,” and “On A Wicked Night” has settled into a husky range. Here, a layer of reverb over his singing draws out honesty, frailty, and a pensive atmosphere in the album’s first single, a touching and ethereal rendition of “Always On My Mind” b/w “Loving Arms (alternative vocal).” Danzig’s spare guitar rhythms and percussion are brought to a fine point by Prong and longtime Danzig guitarist Tommy Victor’s leads, which underscore a self-styled and uncompromised elegance in re-imagining these tunes.
This can be a difficult pill to swallow for anyone waiting for the punk-metal hammer to drop. After all, there are live bootleg recordings floating around capturing the Misfits tearing into “Blue Christmas” in the early ‘80s. Danzig even called down the thunder with a ripping cover of “Trouble” for 1993’s Thrall: Demonsweatlive EP. So there’s a bit of a precedent for expectation to rock when it comes to this terrain. But Danzig Sings Elvis is a more introspective listen that embraces these songs’ original forms.
The album is executed with such matter-of-fact passion, and the songs are so deeply felt that it almost comes across as a novelty—at first. But Danzig’s interpretations perfectly combine his own soulful baritone with Presley’s drawn-out phrasing in songs such as “First in Line,” “Girl of My Best Friend,” and “Like a Baby.” So much so that it’s impossible to take in this record as anything other than a sincere homage, and a much needed break from the hard rock and heavy metal of latter era Danzig albums.
There is no mistaking the fact that Danzig is one of the greatest songwriters to rise above punk, hardcore, and metal, and his voice remains unmatched. If he has anything in common with Elvis Presley—and indeed Marilyn Monroe—it is an ability to find strength in being bold. What sets him apart, however, is a basic tenet of old school punk rock: Don’t give a damn about what anybody else makes of you. You’re not like the others. And when the rest of the herd cannibalizes itself, that’s when you thrive.
This is the message my antenna tuned into as a 13-year-old kid nodding along to “I Turned into a Martian.” It’s in the lyrics: “I walk down city streets on an unsuspecting human world. Inhuman in your midst, this world is mine to own, ’cause, well, I turned into a Martian. I can’t even recall my name!”
It’s a sentiment that resonates, albeit with a bit more resolve when he sings Elvis’ words as well: “And when you hear my name, you’ll say I’m from a strange world. But is it so strange to be in love with you?”
Nowhere on the album does this newly found energy burst with greater reverence than “Pocketful of Rainbows.” The song’s minimal arrangement, channeled through Danzig’s stylishly murky production, captures a glowing tension that feels as though the song could burst open at any moment. But the piano, percussion, and tremolo on the guitar sustain a vibe of hope and buoyancy.
Rare is the artist who can redefine their character so deep into a decades-long career. With Danzig Sings Elvis, the voice and the man behind so much horror business with the Misfits, Samhain, and Danzig breaks the public’s perceptions about him, and breathes new life into his legacy. — Chad Radford