'VIVA ELVIS' - The King Butchered

CD Review

By Arjan Deelen

Does VIVA ELVIS producer Erich van Tourneau really have any affinity with Elvis’ music? And is the way Tourneau tackled this project disrespectful towards Elvis and his original musical vision?

Do these new versions after all display a lack of empathy and understanding by Van Tourneau of what Elvis and his music were all about?

And why are Elvis fans so obsessed with the idea of having Elvis in the charts that it clouds their judgement even when it’s at the expense of Elvis’ integrity?

After a slew of positive reviews EIN contributor Arjan Deelen provides an in-depth and thought-provoking alternate review of 'Viva Elvis' ..


Now UPDATED with your feedback below

'Viva Elvis' - The King Butchered'
By Arjan Deelen.

On August 16th, 1977, nurse Marian Cocke entered the emergency room at Baptist Memorial Hospital and saw the Harvey Team working on an obviously dead Elvis. She asked them to please stop, later noting that "it was evident that the soul of this boy had long since left his body". I was reminded of these words while listening to the latest Circus du Soleil release ‘Viva Elvis’, since his heart and soul seem strangely absent from this release.

Erich van Tourneau is listed as the producer of this project, and judging from what I hear on the album, it’s easy to get the impression that he has very little affinity with Elvis’ music. In my view, the way he has tackled this project is disrespectful towards Elvis and his original musical vision. These new versions display a lack of empathy and understanding by Van Tourneau of what Elvis and his music were all about.

And by the sound of it, he doesn’t seem to be all that bothered about it either. The original audio has been chopped to bits, sampled and manipulated to make it fit his musical vision – and not the other way around.

One thing that surprises me is that some fans are embracing this album, urging others to invest in it so that it will do well on the charts. It seems to me that these fans are so obsessed with the idea of having Elvis in the charts that it clouds their judgement. Why do we feel this need – even when it’s at the expense of Elvis’ integrity? Why can’t we let the guy rest in peace? Hasn’t he already achieved enough in his lifetime and even in the decades after his death?

I think some fans here are fooling themselves when they keep repeating that this is such a great project. It’s not – it’s somebody’s ego show at Elvis’ expense. Nothing more, nothing less.

Let’s visit the crime scene and investigate the evidence.

The opening is simply the ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ theme with jungle drums added to it as well as various Elvis audio samples. Is it just me, or do I detect a subtle disdain for Elvis here? They chose several bits and pieces that show Elvis in a less than flattering light (Elvis making monkey noises, Elvis laughing hysterically, etc.). I also noticed this elsewhere on the disc (Elvis being submissive towards Hal Wallis, etc.).

It would be easy to dismiss the use of songs like ‘That’s All Right’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ off hand; Many would rightfully argue that both songs are stone classics that should be left alone. ‘Blue Suede’ is a mess; the playing on it is very heavy-handed, and the production is directionless. It just doesn’t rock. ‘That’s All Right’ is another trainwreck. The rather clueless band seems to think they are covering a ZZ Top tune, while Elvis sounds like he’s having difficulty keeping up with them. There’s also lots of stupid sampling going on, reminiscent of those god-awful Jive Bunny records from the 80s.

As if that wasn’t enough, Van Tourneau then brutally rapes ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. Elvis sounds like he is backed by a Mongolian military marching band playing their very stereotype idea of ‘ze bluez’. More stupid sampling going on with a.o. a speeded up bit of ‘Polk Salad Annie’ (EP on helium?) dialogue….well, let’s not be purists about it, eh?

The torture continues with a very sugary and cliché-filled ’Love Me Tender’. Once again the backing shows no originality whatsoever, as the band plays in a very bland "90s love song" mode. Really makes you wonder whether Van Tourneau ever has an original idea in his head? Speaking of clichés, an unknown female singer gets to duet with EP here and even though she does an okay job, one really has to wonder why Elvis has to suffer the indignity of having to duet with all these unremarkable Jane Doe’s these days. I think ideas like this only contribute to some people’s notion that he’s a joke, not to be taken seriously. You don’t hear John Lennon or Jim Morrison "duetting" with all these American Idols wannabes, now do you?

Both ’King Creole’ and ’Bossa Nova Baby’ fare a bit better, mainly because here the remixes are more sympathetic to the originals, and here the producers were able to built upon what was already there. ‘Bossa Nova’ is livened up with additional percussion, while in ‘King Creole’ they added elements of modern R&B reminiscent of bands like the Black Eyed Peas.

Things take a nosedive again with ‘Burning Love’. This is utter shit. Here the band doesn’t rock at all; their playing just doesn’t have any ‘oomph’ to it and it’s like they’re having difficulty keeping up with Elvis. The backing here sounds very heavy handed and "eighties".

Following a pointless ‘Memories’ instrumental, we get ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’. Oh dear, this is even worse than 'Love Me Tender'. And yes, we get yet another unknown female vocalist… The culprit comes in during the 2nd verse, and she sounds like she’s hellbent on upstaging Presley by singing it in a ridiculously over-the-top Mariah Carey sort of way. She should have made a point of listening to Elvis’ subtle singing before dubbing in her parts, because this is a horrible mismatch. Really, did anyone listen to this shit before they put it out?? The new "Oh Yeah" ending (from ‘Love Me’) does show a touch of originality, but I grew a beard while listening to it… it just goes on and on (& on and on).

The final track, ‘Suspicious Minds’, sounds like an early 80s U2 reject. This has an unfinished feel to it, almost like it’s a demo. Also a very ‘tinny’ sound. Garbage.

In essence I don’t see myself as a purist, and I enjoyed some of the songs on the Guitar Man album from ’80, as well as the JLX-remix of ‘A Little Less Conversation’ from ’02. As long as it’s done with sincerity and creativity (i.e. lesser-known songs), I have no problem with it. But this project really sucks, pure and simple.

I’m really surprised that Sony went through with releasing this album, because most of the tracks are so poor that they should never have made it past Quality Control. It seems that the label did recognize the problem to some extent, because there’s only a measly ten Elvis tracks on the album (reportedly, about 40 tracks were recorded for this project). It would have been wiser to cancel the whole album, but presumably there was some pressure on them to release this due to the money already invested by the various parties (Circus du Soleil, Sony, EPE, etc.). Now that the public has given this release the big thumbs down, I hope that it will give them some food for thought.

My main gripe with this album is that it’s been done by a bunch of d*ckheads who don’t have a clue about Elvis’ music, and who quite frankly don’t care either. In interviews, Erich van Tourneau has pointed out how hard it was to work with 66-year old mono recordings. So clearly he believes that Elvis had his heyday near the end of World War II. Sadly, that same sloppiness and carelessness is evident in the whole production of this album. I have seen several reviews of the album now in the Danish press, and for once they all agree on the fact that this album is a piece of junk unworthy of Elvis. All reviews gave it one star out of five, and they used terms like "grave robbery", "cheap overblown arrangements", "quite simply horrible", "soulless", "garbage", and so on.

Some might say that reviews like these are missing the point because this is the soundtrack to a theater show, but in my view that’s an invalid argument. Sony has chosen to release this album worldwide even though most of us will never see the show, so it will have to stand on its own merits – which it can’t. Take away all the hype, and you’ll realize that there’s nothing really there. At least ALLC was done with some originality by JXL, but this album is just a load of dog poop.

Some fans are defending this release saying that it sounds so modern and that the kids today will dig it… get real! As pointed out earlier, the backings on ‘Burning Love’ and ‘Suspicious Minds’ sound like they come
straight out of 1985. Same with the cheap sampling that you hear on tracks like 'That's All Right'. All that stuff has already been done to death many years go. These same fans seem to believe that the album will bring a new generation of Elvis fans, but I don’t agree. It’s quite simply not representative of the Elvis catalogue.

Concluding, I’d like to ask you two questions, one being: Do you honestly believe that Elvis would have liked this album? Personally, I think he would have been just as upset as during those other times where he felt that people were messing with his music.

The other question is: What’s the point of this release? Are the original recordings not good enough? Why mess with all-time classics like ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘Suspicious Minds’? Is it ethical to even be doing this – isn’t it a bit like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa? Why do this at all?

I’d love to hear your viewpoints.

P.S. Would somebody please get Erich Van Tourneau a pocket calculator?

 

Click here and have YOUR SAY - Do you Agree?

Review by Arjan Deelen for EIN:
-Copyright EIN November 2010
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.

Click here to comment on this review



EIN readers contribute their thoughts on 'VIVA ELVIS' -

From: Taylor S - Berlin
I enjoyed your review very much. I haven't been to the Viva Elvis show but have heard the album, and was left in a haze of confusion. I'm sure this misguided attempt at an update will be quickly forgotten anyway....  I agree with the comment on the music having an 80s rock feel. Music making techniques have changed vastly in the last 20 years, from a generation of practicing musicians (with real physical instruments) to electronic technicians (with samplers and programming skill); rarely do musicians today have knowledge in both fields.
Live band sound technology peaked in the late 80's; as sampling became the focus for music making gear, guitars (for instance) were left to rot in their 80s clothing as no new approaches to the instrument were offered on the market. Its not hard to understand why anyone from the "old school" of music making (such as Van Tourneau) would make an album sounding like the 80s -- he seems stuck in his ways and hasn't taken the time to learn how to approach music without his "guitar playing music school educated" shackles.... perhaps this attitude comes from working in a cold-blooded Vegas environment for too long. 

We can only assume that EPE agreed on using Van Tourneau because it was the easiest choice available. If updating the music is the mandate, why not use someone with the skills and attitude necessary? 
Aphex Twin has been making records for over 10 years! His approach has entered the electronic mainstream by now.... does anyone in the EPE unit listen to any new music? I doubt it. Even if some tunes in the the show involve reharmonisation (chorus endings in Love Me Tender using the harmonic minor for instance), the sounds just don't cut it. 
Processed distortion on guitars is an 80s trademark -- why does Van Tourneau want to pretend to sound fresh without doing any homework? 
His attitude (in his interview) seems congruent with his ignorance.

I believe the only way to "update" music is to learn the latest technology. It sounds as if Van Tourneau did his best, and one cannot call these versions "lazy", as clearly there was much work involved in the recontextualisations. It's just that he was the wrong man for the job (i.e. the aforementioned Love Me Tender dumbs the nuanced original down to a cro-magnon level).

If EPE wants to attract young people it must use young people to achieve this, instead of arrogant posturing from an unqualified muso with a sense of entitlement. I anticipate future Elvis projects that can also smell of blood and sweat.perhaps this is expecting too much when coming from an EPE endorsement. The fact that EPE wants to protect the legacy of Elvis over any other concern is where the problem lies (i.e. the offically unreleased 34-year-old Elvis in Concert tv special).

Whatever EPE endorses can only be a whitewashed version of reality. As almost every single note Elvis Presley recorded is available through online sites, there is plenty of material for Elvis nuts to chew on.....but when it comes to updating older music, reverence must be set aside for reinvention, and this may be too much to risk for EPE.

I think Elvis would have shot bullets through his tv if he were to watch an episode of American Idol; the passion he had for music has no relation to the ideology of the program. Surely, such an obsessive music lover as EP would at least have an artistic respect for new approaches and concepts? As long as these concepts are respectful (with the homework involved) to his passion and commitment, we have a chance to break through to another Elvis world. Give the material to someone with skills please. EPE!! How about Skrillex? Sufjan Stevens?  Flying Lotus? James Blake?

While I look forward to future Elvis contexts to surface, I am also quite thrilled to have so much original Elvis music available in 2011 and will most likely be trawling through the recordings and reading books for the next 50 years or so. Two recent purchases have been Writing for the King, and Off Duty with Private Presley -- yes!!!! I  hope alternate versions of records will appear that consist of only original demo versions of the tracks, for starters.....

In any case, I agreed with your Viva Elvis comments fully.

 

From: Don
Well said Arjan, Your review really hit the nail on the head. Hearing what those tossers did to Heartbreak Hotel and Suspicious Minds really infuriates me.
Your article is pure Gold,
Many Thanks - TCE

From: Henk N
I do not agree with your article. For me it's clear enough the ones before me who reacted on this article  and you are the ones who do not understand this album, there's nothing eighties on  this album or anything you keep forgetting who made this album( and funny remarks about him is not even close to funny or essential)  and how much work was done for this album maybe also interesting to know that this album has received  the Gold status  in Sweden When Viva Elvis was done in las Vegas it received great reviews till this day now  everything was great  from this show it sounded great and now the cd is released and then suddenly it's worth nothing? That doesn't add up in a big way. I really dislike this article and there are so may others reviews who praise this album which makes your article not even worth reading. I know what to believe.

From: Rick B
I tend to agree with this review. I like the idea of remixes to introduce Elvis to a new audience but I simply don’t think these are much good. It sounds too much like an overblown Vegas show...wait a minute that is an overblown Vegas show.
I do like Bossa Nova Baby though.

From: Ray F
I Agree, Elvis would not like it one bit at all. I also agree that the sound is more 80's than 2010.
I also do not like the grunting and some samples used in the mixes (what's with all that reet-petite crap.)
The opening was ill conceived, I don't like the way the cut Elvis' vocals short on BSS, That's Alright (80's never now), Heartbreak Hotel  is a wreck, Love Me Tender was not good mismatched vocally, like you said, did they even listen to Elvis' version?
King Creole is my favorite of the bunch, Bossa Nova beginning was crap but picked up, Burning Love turned into another 80's track (BOOM BOOM).
Why bother with the instrumentals? CHFIL Was again mismatched and Elvis would (if not already) be rolling in his grave, and Suspicious Minds , well way to ruin a Fantastic Classic.
Overall I guess as far as a show goes it would probably work, but all this about Elvis in 2010? Seriously,  give me the Originals any day of the week.
In fact I have made a CD of the originals.  Makes you really appreciate just how much of a talent Elvis was.

(EIN notes that the UK special double 'Viva Elvis' cd does also come with Elvis' original versions)
 
From: Owen A. H
I agree with Arjan, the album is a cheap knock off. The Beatles album was better.
Sony is useless when it comes to Elvis, I mean look at how many Christmas Albums they release every year.
- Owen & Cheryle

From: Ron Brandon
I've not heard the album being discussed, and have no interest in hearing it.  But I am certainly in agreement with the argument that Elvis would likely be dismayed at what is happening to his vision.  I would argue that his music, for which he mostly had total control.. should be respected.. and left alone.  If an individual wants to remix, or change, or add to.. an old Elvis recording.. for his/her own enjoyment.. fine.  But for those in control of Elvis' legacy.. I would hope that they could be content with it as it is.  To attempt to improve (change) his vision, diminished it.  Ultimately, time must dim his aura.  Have some respect for the music as he saw it.

From: Kay
I totally agree that Elvis' music should be left alone and I will not be buying "Viva Elvis".  I agree with Marty Lacker on this also-- Leave Elvis' music alone.  I can't believe that he would have liked this.  

From: André
In a way a sort of agree with the reviewer. However if this album introduces Elvis to a younger  generation they might get curious about Elvis and his music and may want to explore the real genius  who was Elvis and get the surprise of their music lives.

From: Bob
To a large extent I'd agree - overall the whole album seems to be lacking something - way too short and the instrumentals really added nothing except some padding. I really looked forward to this release because I quite like remixes but most of these are not very good. The standout track for me is "King Creole" - I think this is a great remix. Rest of the album is rather bland /ho hum and although disappointing, I can see why it is a flop in terms of sales and the charts.

From: Donn
What upsets so many ELVIS fans isn't the prospect of another artist surpassing ELVIS so much as the fact that Billboard changed their rules in the early 1990s which is making it easier for other artists to do.so. They can blame illegal downloading all they want but downloading didn't exist at the time when music sales started to slump in the early 1990s. So, Billboard's claims about illegal downloading being the reason that they changed their rules doesn't hold water. I and millions of other ELVIS fans just want equal time for "THE KING". Michael Jackson is an accused child molestor and Sony and Billboard are promoting him to the hilt. Give ELVIS the same respect, Sony. You have never lost money with ELVIS like you have with Michael Jackson. Don't cave in to racism accusations from people like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, the Jackson family and his fans. Do the right thing and the moral thing!.

From: Jay B
I  can see why a purist would not be happy with this cd but there are many people who will see the show and want a keepsake to remember it by.  I for one would love to see the show regardless of the updating of the music. It's not that important as long as Sony continues to honor Presley's art by presenting it in its original form so people can hear why Elvis was so great. I don't want this type of alteration to become a trend but I'm afraid there will be more coming.

From: Hubert Vindevogel
If Arjan thinks someone that Elvis should rest in peace, why is Mr Deelen going on bringing impersonators on stage?
Let them rest in peace!

(EIN would like to point out that Arjan Deelen does not present concerts featuring "Elvis Impersonators" but only with Elvis' real musicians and composers involved - he would never use an "Elvis Impersonator" as suggested above. Please go here to see what The Original Tribute is actually all about)

From: Luc L
I'm sorry to say but I don't agree. The album is fantastic to me.  And I am 60. Of course this album will never replace the originals. I see this album like big promo not only for the theater show but also to draw the attention on Elvis musical legacy. Elvis remains a singer of the past now, like it or not, it will remain though, but like The Beatles, it's an icon of a certain era, still good enough to inspire contemporary musicians,, artists and a huge enterprise like Le Cirque du Soleil. I don't see the problem here. Maybe you don't like it like I do but it's not  a shame to have released it worldwide. Over the years, we don't listen to music like we used to do. Mono was overpassed by Stereo, Surround Sound, ambient Sound ... name it. 5.1, 7.1  etc...  The sound have improved and  our appreciation of an artistic achievement is different now as it was when Elvis was alive and will be different in the years to come.

In spite of all these new "sounds" I always go back to the originals and I enjoy immensely The Complete Elvis. Still I still prefer the mix of the 1998 rerelease of Promised Land, as I prefer the Double Features versions of Harum Scarum and Frankie And Johnny. Ernst had to go back to the original mix- I Know -  but RCA made some terrible choice back then and it's not rewriting history to make a better mix for it will do justice to some albums that were just simply badly mixed in the past. When Kid Galahad came out it was on a mono EPA, now we can hear it in glorious stereo, well at least for me, it sounds better and richer. I listen to Viva Elvis and it makes me happy and wanted to hear the originals more. Cirque du Soleil had to do something big for their live show in Vegas, the cd reflect that. They made the same with Love but not as deeper as they did with Elvis.
A matter of taste I guess.
.

From: Paul L
I wouldn't buy the album if my head was in a vice. For me, Arjan nails it.Elvis was an artist and had the final say on his recordings, and we all know how upset he was when Parker later moved his vocals more to the front of the mixes,only then having them released. If Elvis'd heard this stuff,he'd have puked. Each of the originals is equivalent to a museum painting.No one goes back and redoes the Mona Lisa's hair. No one should touch these either. This is ALL about money.
RCA/Sony/BMG should be ashamed.

From: Laurie F
I am a die hard Elvis fan. I have loved him for over 40 yrs. I never got the chance to see him perform live. I had tickets to his concert on August 21, 1977 in Hartford CT. I disagree with the assessment of Viva Elvis. I think Elvis would be honored to have a Broadway show about him. I do admit their are a few tracks that I am not "in love" with, but taken as a whole it's good. Elvis is an artist that needs to be recognized for all that he has done. I am tired of the MJ comparsions. I am sorry but I don't agree with the King being in front of MJ's name, esp. when it was all his doing. But going back to Elvis, he was IT before anyone and it seems to me that any way they can get the new listeners to appreciate what it was he did would be great. I think their should be a retrospective of his beginning, which should included what the country was like at the time. If they did it right I think younger people would appreciate him more. They need to show the Country as a divided one and how Elvis changed that through Music. How he didn't steal the music from anyone, how he created in him what he was surrounded with. How he viewed people as equals. Their has never been a show like that. Have the interviews with BB King and James Brown and others and I think Elvis will be given the respect from some that don't give it now. Well that's my 2cents, maybe more, but I am tired of  Elvis was a racist and he stole the "black man's sound". Show how boring the music scene was before Elvis. Thank you!

From: Ida R
I do not agree with messing up with Elvis music but I do believe that his music could be updted with respect as long as the real soul and his ways are respected. For me some are good and others are not, this album is not and I will not purchase it, but I have to say though that Elvis will be proud with a Broadway play if it could be done with respect towards his music and must of all the kind of Entertainer he was. Sometimes I feel that lock of respect involved.

From: Gary H
I haven't heard the album as a whole, just a few tracks here and there and frankly, I'm largely unimpressed and wouldn't waste any more time on it, let alone my hard earned cash! Though why some fans should be so shocked beats me. Elvis' catalogue has had a history of being messed around with, has often been treated with little respect and has generally always been milked beyond justification. 'Having fun with Elvis on stage' , 'Elvis Sings for Kids and Grown ups too' , come to mind and more recently we've had countless hits compilations and a new Christmas compilation every year without fail. And yet some of his 'core' albums have still never been readily available on CD as originally released or with their original mixes: Kissin Cousins, Speedway, Double Trouble, World's Fair etc. However, I have noticed they are available via itunes ...but that's a different argument!

From: Gerald M
Okay, I admit it.  I didn't approach this CD with an open mind.  Still, I did listen to it all the way through.  Twice!  I thought I would be more open to it the second time around once I got over the initial shock.  Wrong!  Crap is crap.  And this CD is crap.  Although I must admit I thought King Creole was decent.  But the rest?
Arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!  Thanks goodness I was able to lay my hands on a radio station promo copy of this CD for my listening session and didn't actually have to buy it. 

 


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