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, IN 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 preeminent 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 soundalike 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. At best, they'll 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.
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AllMusic Review by John Bush