- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

Lisa Marie Presley

Now What

Capitol Records

Maybe Elvis Presley really is still alive, because on Lisa Marie Presley’s “Now What,” it sounds as if he fathered Avril Lavigne.

Miss Presley, 37 and thrice-married, has sturdily pressed ahead with a second album, and, like Miss Lavigne, she’s into flashing angry punk cred (“rebel DNA pirate spirit” is how Miss Presley describes it) while swimming in the gloss-rock mainstream. Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with swimming in the gloss-rock mainstream — just don’t pretend to be PJ Harvey while you’re soaking wet.

This seems to be a recurring theme with “women who rock.” They rock with an asterisk. The asterisk says: “Dear Mr. Adult-Contemporary Radio Programmer: Kindly ignore the parental advisory sticker on my CD cover, and, pretty please, keep me in steady rotation alongside Alanis Morissette and Maroon 5.”

Courtney Love tried the same pivot with last year’s “America’s Sweetheart”: trash rock, expensively perfumed. The results were disastrous. Miss Presley, incidentally, hired the same songwriting collaborator as Miss Love — ex-4 Non Blondes singer Linda Perry, the muse of pop-rock bad girl Pink, who, incidentally, duets with Miss Presley on the power ballad “Shine.”

These gals stick together.

“Now What” was produced by Eric Rosse, who manned the controls for Miss Presley’s 2003 debut, “To Whom It May Concern.” The overall sheen of “Now What” is pretty much the same: lots of digitally amplified guitars that simultaneously sound clean and dirty; drum programming to keep all the elements tight and fashionable-sounding; and cinematic string beds to soften sharp edges and quicken the trite, midtempo arrangements.

Sex Pistols power-chord man Steve Jones plays on two muscle-flexing songs here, the ridiculous venom-spewer “Idiot” (“You’re an idiot/And I hate your guts”) plus a hidden track containing a cover of the Ramones’ “Here Today Gone Tomorrow.” Miss Presley’s voice is actually somewhat punk — a husky, throaty drone that swears like a stevedore and cops to a computer porn habit.

The flashy-gritty combo works sporadically. It’s advisable to skip the pseudo-dark songs Miss Presley co-wrote with boyfriend-guitarist Michael Lockwood (“Turned to Black,” “Raven”) and stick with Miss Perry’s mostly passable half.

“I’ll Figure It Out,” seemingly Miss Presley’s exorcism of the demons of adolescent bad behavior, works up a genuine emotional sweat. She fairly soars on the rootsy, acoustic-driven title track. “Who’s gonna save me next time/It won’t be you for the first time,” she convincingly pleads.

A cover of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” — which serves as a canned, catchall whack at the tabloids that have hounded her for years — is an ineffectual, overprogrammed mess. Aside from that bit of nose-thumbing, there’s little here for the novelty-seeking prurient. There’s nothing, apparently, about what’s-his-name, Miss Presley’s second husband.

Speaking of Michael Jackson, Miss Presley recently told Oprah Winfrey that she’s “indifferent” about the whole episode. The wounds of “Now What” are too fresh for that. (Sample rawness: “I guess I’m about as happy for you as I would be a cockroach in my food.”) It’s too bad Miss Presley doesn’t have the guts to give those wounds the music they deserve.

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