On a visual level, Cirque du Soleil’s Viva Elvis at Aria presents the performer in full-on Vegas spectacle mode, even when striving to reveal an intimate side of the man. But if you separate the soundtrack from the hallucinatory power of the Cirque stage, you discover that Viva Elvis—The Album (Legacy, released Nov. 9) is a different animal, one whose fangs are fully revealed. Crank up the CD loud enough and you can feel its incisors pressing against your ears.
Produced and arranged by the show’s musical director, Erich van Tourneau (Vegas Seven April 8), the album successfully modernizes Elvis’ mythic sound without denigrating it. Instead of seeking to shoehorn the songs into trendy genres in mashup-like fashion, van Tourneau pushes each tune deeper into not-so-obvious directions. For instance, the raucous, foot-stomping, percussive heart of “Blue Suede Shoes” is revealed, peeled away from the many moody, slavish proto-rock interpretations that typically plague it. “That’s All Right” takes a cue from both Motown song construction and garage-rock riffing to arrive at something different and deferent. “Heartbreak Hotel,” meanwhile, starts out in Robert Johnson’s speakeasy and ends up sounding like AC/DC rehearsing a horn section.
Indeed, it’s the seemingly limitless ways in which Elvis’ haunting Southern voice can fuel any arrangement, no matter how imaginative or encompassing, that testifies to its vastness. Despite the ballads here, such as the post-rock take on “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” this is a brash album. To hear the pounding “Burning Love,” in which studio drummer Ben Clement punishes his kit, and the magnificent and layered power-pop guitars of “Suspicious Minds,” mixed by producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen), is to feel young again. Hungry. Raw.