'Viva Elvis: The Album' - CD Review
Reviewed by TJ from www.classicpopicons.com
This week sees the release of "Viva Elvis – The Album", which is the soundtrack to the Las Vegas "Viva Elvis" Cirque du Soleil show. The 12-track album features remixes of some of Elvis’ most famous songs, with mixed results.
The tracks are like a musical collage, with Elvis’ original vocals interspersed with new instrumentation and comments from Elvis and other prominent figures, such as Ed Sullivan. Some remixes lean strongly on the feel and tempo of the original tracks, while others are wildly different.
The intro for "Blue Suede Shoes" is excellent and there is great work from Guy Bélanger on harmonica throughout. Elvis’ vocals are taken from the original 1956 cut, as well as some lines from a 1970 live version. There are also overdubs from Ed Sullivan and Milton Berle, taken from Elvis’ appearances on their shows in 1956. The insistent hand clapping and drum work will get your feet tapping, but despite all the elaborate additions, the original actually has more drive.
It’s Elvis meets Iggy Pop on "That’s All Right", with a "Lust for Life" style guitar-based backing dubbed on. This did grow on me after a few listens, but there is the distraction of some of the chord changes not matching Elvis’ original vocals.
"Heartbreak Hotel" features a real mixture of styles, from delta blues, to rock, to big band. In an extended blues section, various overdubs are included, such as the spoken into to "Polk Salad Annie" from 1970 (slightly speeded up to mimic Elvis’ 1950s voice). The whole thing does seem a little disjointed though and sadly misses Scotty Moore’s classic guitar instrumental.
"Love Me Tender" is a contender for the best track on the album. It has been turned into an appealing duet with a female singer. The simple original backing is replaced with contemporary, but still subtle instrumentation that doesn’t overwhelm the vocals.
"King Creole" has an imaginative intro, with clips from the movie trailer and the backing vocals from "Crawfish." Elvis is then joined by members of the cast and once again the whole thing is driven along by a heavy, repetitive beat and hand clapping. It’s ok as far as it goes and you can certainly imagine that it would work well in the context of the show.
Most Elvis fans have a real affection for the classic scene in Fun in Acapulco when Elvis sings "Bossa Nova Baby", but that’s due perhaps more to Elvis’ manic dancing than the song itself. Nevertheless, "Bossa Nova Baby" has become a minor classic. The original is actually less mauled than some other tracks on the album. There are some overdubs to strengthen the beat and an extended percussive section, which does work well, but the original track is more or less intact.
The hard rock version of "Burning Love" strikes me as a little obvious in approach and missing the natural groove of the original. There are some nice touches though, such as the inclusion of Elvis’ classic line from the 1957 movie Jailhouse Rock – "That ain’t tactics honey, its just the beast in me."
"Can’t Help Falling in Love" is, like "Love Me Tender", one of Elvis’ all time classic ballads. Unfortunately, the changes here are more intrusive and less appealing than on "Love Me Tender." Elvis is also joined by a female singer on the track, but her R&B riffing doesn’t really work for me. The gospel inspired ending does come together nicely though, with elements of the song "Love Me" used to great effect.
"Suspicious Minds" is a real departure from the classic 1969 single. The brilliant guitar riff has been removed, which was a brave move considering that it is such a strong feature of the song, but the layers of instrumentation do work and Elvis’ voice remains pleasingly to the fore. This is one of the most successful tracks on the album.
The album also features short, instrumental versions of "Memories" and "You’ll Never Walk Alone". Full versions with Elvis’ vocals would have been more interesting.
Summing up -
It’s clear that this album will have its detractors before it is even heard because there is real division among Elvis fans about the merits of his music being remixed. Some believe that remixes will help draw the attention of younger people to Elvis’ work and others think that remixing a classic Elvis song is akin to painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa. The first point of view is drawn partly from the impact of the remix "A Little Less Conversation" in 2002, which was a worldwide number one and did indeed help introduce new people to Elvis’ fine body of work. Will the same happen with "Viva Elvis"? It’s doubtful. The 2002 song was helped by several factors, namely the free promotion from its use by Nike in their World Cup commercial, the fact that it was remixed by a popular DJ, and that it received significant radio airplay. On the latter point, there are signs that the same will not occur this time. The lead single for "Viva Elvis" in the UK was going to be "Suspicious Minds", but this was cancelled because BBC Radio were not going to play it.
So, putting aside these questions about the rights and wrongs of remixing Elvis’ music in the first place, does "Viva Elvis" have musical merit? I think it’s fair to say that overall the tracks are a considerable improvement on most Elvis remixes. Those who generally like Elvis remixes will probably find lots to enjoy here and those who don’t might also find themselves pleasantly surprised by some of the tracks, such as "Love Me Tender." I see the album as harmless fun and expect it to chart quite strongly, but ultimately it’s all quite gimmicky and the originals will continue to be played when these versions are long forgotten.
Viva Elvis" is also available as a 2-CD deluxe edition in the UK, with the second CD featuring the original songs.
'Viva Elvis: The Album' - CD Review
Review by John Bush from Allmusic.com - 2.5 / 5 stars
During the '50s and '60s, there was no bigger extravaganza in pop music than an Elvis Presley concert, whether it was 1956 in Fort Wayne, or 1969 at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, where he eventually appeared to more than two million paying fans.
Forty years after he debuted at the International, the Cirque du Soleil show Viva Elvis presented a similar extravaganza, this one complete with dance, acrobatics, live music, and video clips -- that list prioritized, no doubt, in order of importance. After all, an extravaganza in 2010 terms is quite different than 50 years earlier, especially when the star of your show isn't around to ignite the fans. Still, musical producer Erich van Tourneau displays a good working knowledge of Elvis' career arc (thanks in part to pre-eminent Elvis historian Ernst Jorgensen), and the chronology of Elvis' life is preserved surprisingly well, complete with his energetic rock & roll beginnings, zesty but insubstantial pop for the film soundtracks, and his latter-day apotheosis via rock music and stagecraft.
The long-build opening comes courtesy of "Also Sprach Zarathustra," Elvis' opening music for years, before the show launches into "Blue Suede Shoes." Here comes the first clear sign that this is a 2010 production. Every element of the original that can be tweaked, or laden with echo, or resampled, or gated, or scratched by DJ Pocket, is given over to those effects. It sounds like what it is: a musical production that is naturally subservient to its visual accompaniment. Literally every second of the song is devoted to its own moment, with little in the way of build or release -- only peak.
From there, Viva Elvis: The Album rewinds Elvis' story to the beginning, with his first major hit, "That's All Right." (Iggy Pop fans may note that it's retro-fitted to sound like a "Lust for Life" knock-off.)
"Heartbreak Hotel" is given some riotous, bluesy harmonica and distorted vocals, then the show fittingly uses "Love Me Tender" to portray his Army years, with a female duet partner and photographs of him in uniform.
The soundtrack years include "King Creole" and "Bossa Nova Baby," fair choices to feature the frothy pop of Elvis' film-as-paycheck years (although the female vocalist shows up again on "King Creole," seemingly designed as a Miranda Lambert sound-a-like to appeal to country fans).
Then, the last half of the disc focuses on his '70s performance prime, when "Burning Love" and "Suspicious Minds" signaled the advent of the full-throated, body-suited Elvis giving it everything he had in front of Vegas gamblers (and fans).
These radical re-recordings can hardly come as a big shock to Elvis fans, who have seen a lot over the years -- and they're certainly less of a shock than when Cirque du Soleil messed with the Beatles for the production of 2006's Love.
Verdict: At best, fans will find this another curious novelty, while those who haven't seen the show or heard the originals will find scattered moments of excitement. (There was far too much money put into this show for it to come off sounding like a cheap remix collection.) For those who have seen the show, it's the perfect keepsake for a few hours visually entertained but musically pandered to.