In honor of what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday, Cirque du Soleil set about honoring the King with a show in the city that became synonymous with Presley in his later touring years – Las Vegas. Taking a page from The Beatles’ Love, Viva ELVIS is a visual tribute to Presley with his music serving as the soundtrack. Much like with Love, Presley’s music has been radically remixed but unlike Love – which was entirely the Beatles’ music – Viva ELVIS finds Presley’s classic tracks augmented by contemporary musicians in an attempt to make his sound current. Purists may scoff at the notion as many of these tracks are considered perfect as is, but the more open-minded may be pleasantly surprised by some of this CD.
The opening of the CD serves as an overture, with a crowd swell; interview clips; sound bytes from Ed Sullivan; bits of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” better known as the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey and the new drum beat leading into the opening song, “Blue Suede Shoes.” The track does a good job of building anticipation for the show to come. “Blue Suede Shoes” blends distorted guitars with handclaps and harmonica giving the song a garage-rock feel while “That’s All Right” bears an eerie resemblance to Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” or Jet’s “Are you Gonna Be My Girl?” while still utilizing Scotty Moore’s original lead breaks. The tracks work surprisingly well, but it’s clear from the get-go that this is not your parents’ Presley.
“Heartbreak Hotel” manages to combine three different versions of the song to create an entirely different listening experience. We start with Presley warming up his voice, followed by an acoustic blues guitar right out of the Mississippi Delta and Presley’s voice sounding like he was singing through a harmonica mic, but before the listener can get used to that, it jumps between the ’68 Comeback Special arrangement and the original 1956 version. This may be the best-realized remix on the album as the song lends itself well to this sort of treatment. “Bossa Nova Baby” plays up the Latin elements of the song, adding a trumpet solo, while staying fairly close to the original. Keen listeners will notice the guitar solo from “Hard Headed Woman” has been added here to great effect.
“Love Me Tender” has been given a modern acoustic feel and has been turned into a duet with Dea Norgerg. While Presley sounds great as usual, her voice just doesn’t work with the song and the parts where she harmonizes with Presley sound forced. “King Creole” has been given an unnecessary hip-hop treatment while “Burning Love” now sounds as if it could have been recorded by the Hives – not bad, but not really necessary either. Things improve with an instrumental piano version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the closing track (and lead single) “Suspicious Minds,” which sounds like Presley channeling U2 with its jangly guitars.
Viva ELVIS is an interesting, often good (if unnecessary) reinterpretation of Presley’s remarkable catalog. Open-minded old listeners may find these new versions a fun twist and it may introduce Presley to an entirely new generation of fans. Those who want their Presley “as nature intended” would do best to stay far away from this CD though and listen to the original albums as this is nothing like the Presley they have come to love.
Article first published as Music Review: Elvis Presley “Viva ELVIS” on Blogcritics.