Lisa Marie Presley

Now What

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Like the title of her long-anticipated 2003 debut, To Whom It May Concern, the title of Lisa Marie Presley's 2005 sophomore effort, Now What, is an acknowledgement of the state of her career, a message to anyone paying attention, whether they were a fan, friend, Elvis fanatic, or obsessive tabloid reader. The first served as a wake-up call to all who were wondering what the daughter of the King of Rock & Roll would do whenever she launched a solo career. With the second, she wonders aloud what she should do as an encore. Not that To Whom It May Concern took the world by storm -- it received mixed reviews and did well enough on the charts, partially due to her own celebrity -- but it did raise the question of whether Lisa Marie was serious about pursuing a full-fledged career, or if it was a mere one-off. Now What proves that she's attempting to have a full-blown career, not just because it appeared quickly after the debut -- which is a shock, considering that she waited until her mid-thirties to make her first LP -- but because it's a stronger, more distinctive album than her debut. Part of the key to its success is that Presley chose Linda Perry -- the ex-4 Non Blondes leader who became the hot songwriter of the early 2000s thanks to her contributions on Pink's breakthrough 2001 album M!ssundaztood -- as her chief collaborator, working on the other half of the album primarily with her guitarist/boyfriend Michael Lockwood. Presley winds up with an album that's sonically similar to her first -- they're both produced by Eric Rosse, after all -- but it's considerably tougher, from the music to the profanity-riddled lyrics. There aren't many soft moments here; even on the ballads, Lisa Marie growls, which makes them all the more appealing. The sound of Now What still is highly polished and produced, but that helps make her snarl sound nastier, since it gives the music its bite. The smartest thing about the record is that instead of trying to clean up her attitude, Presley and her collaborators are unapologetic about having Lisa Marie play the sexy yet vulnerable bad girl, keeping the music alternately moody and hard. Thanks to Perry, these tunes also have hooks, something that To Whom It May Concern occasionally lacked, so Now What winds up being a sleek, sultry collection of big, brooding rockers and ballads. While it's undeniably polished, it's a bit too dark, a bit too quirky, and a bit too individualistic to be part of the mainstream, while being too slick and professional to be on the fringe, but the album is all the more ingratiating for being caught between two worlds -- by straddling these two extremes, Presley has wound up with an album that feels genuine even at its glossiest moments, and that's due largely to her willingness to lay herself bare in her music and lyrics. By doing so, she may not win over cynical critics -- albums this tightly constructed and produced rarely win a sympathetic ear -- but she nevertheless proves she's in it for the long haul with Now What, an album that delivers on the promise of her debut.

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