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Elvis Presley – Viva ELVIS (Review)

Viva Elvis

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

Viva ELVIS is designed as a 21st Century celebration of the music of rock ‘n’ roll icon Elvis Presley, as put together by Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. and Viva ELVIS by Cirque du Soleil at ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

It’s sure to be a polarising concept given there will undoubtedly be those who feel that Presley’s timeless songs need no tinkering with. But for the more open-minded, there is merit to be found in a lot of the re-imaginings that constitute this album.

All songs feature Presley’s inimitable vocals and most retain the same spirit or energy of his classics.

Hence, seminal songs such as Blue Suede Shoes, Love Me Tender, Suspicious Minds, King Creole and Can’t Help Falling In Love all figure and aren’t tinkered with too greatly.

Some have a freshness, rather like a remix package that can sometimes bring something new and alternative to a much loved modern classic. Others do have a ‘why did they bother’ feel?

The decision to wrap an Iggy Pop Lust For Life vibe around That’s All Right, for instance, sounds downright disconcerting and more than a little lazy. It’s more a fusion of two classic sounds, which benefits neither, and it’s sure to be one of those moments that the sceptics flock to in pointing out the folly behind the album.

But the garage-rock update given to Blue Suede Shoes works a treat, adding a hipness – courtesy of the hand-claps, harmonica bursts and distorted guitars – that is sure to get people dancing once again. It doesn’t better the original, of course, but it proves that Presley’s vocals can work in a modern context and sound as brilliant and as exciting as ever.

Heartbreak Hotel, on the other hand, emerge as more of a curiosity piece, combining three Presley recordings and never really settling down, despite having some merit. There’s a warm up vocal, plus inter-spliced sections of Elvis performing the song at his Comeback Concert in 1968 with the 1956 original.

Love Me Tender is given added ‘romanticism’ by virtue of some piano backing, a modern acoustic backdrop and the inclusion of female vocals by Dea Norgerg, who duets. But this one’s another of the album’s odd choices. It’s beautifully put together and has a certain emotional resonance… but it’s not entirely necessary and you can’t help but pine for Presley’s vocals once Dea takes centre-stage.

King Creole is a lively blend of finger-click beats, brass blasts and gospel-infused backing that somehow works in a fun party way, and Bossa Nova Baby heightens the Latin element and is a riot of energy that can’t fail to get your feet tapping and your head nodding in giddy appreciation. It maintains the spirit of the original well.

Burning Love has a contemporary rock vibe more akin to a Jet or Hives recording, but is still energetic enough to be credible, while Suspicious Minds is given an epic rock vibe complete with string arrangements that has variously been described by colleagues as channelling the spirit of U2 or Snow Patrol. It’s nevertheless a pleasant listen.

In between, meanwhile, there’s another dubious duet… this time for Can’t Help Falling In Love, which begins in stripped back, intimate and heart-melting fashion, before drawing on Dea’s vocals once more and including a silly back-beat. With Presley’s vocals, it works… but once the focus is taken away from him the song could just be any other cover version (and not a particularly inspired one at that).

But then, in a nutshell, the album’s strengths and weaknesses largely depend on how far from Presley it strays. Keep him centre-stage and the spirit of the originals intact and it’s an interesting, even lively, experiment; stray too far, add unnecessary vocals and change the emphasis and it’s more akin to a disaster.

The overall result? A mixed bag that’s as difficult to recommend as it is to completely dislike. But you’re definitely better off sticking to the originals instead.

Download picks: Blue Suede Shoes, King Creole, Bossa Nova Baby, Suspicious Minds

Track listing:

  1. Opening
  2. Blue Suede Shoes
  3. That’s All Right
  4. Heartbreak Hotel
  5. Love Me Tender
  6. King Creole
  7. Bossa Nova Baby
  8. Burning Love
  9. Memories [interlude]
  10. Can’t Help Falling In Love
  11. You’ll Never Walk Alone [piano interlude]
  12. Suspicious Minds