Suspicious minds want to know: How much Presley is there in Lisa Marie?
This, of course, explains why 35-year-old Lisa Marie Presley has waited until now to release her debut album, "To Whom It May Concern" (Capitol). Given the uncanny physical resemblance -- probably the least of her legacy issues -- it was inevitable that comparisons would be made between Elvis and his only child. And that's not even counting Lisa Marie's familial penchant for feeding the tabloids with tawdry tales of non-musical exploits, such as the bizarre marriage-as-merger between the daughter of The King and the self-styled King of Pop, Michael Jackson, and the more recent breakup of her 3 1/2-month marriage with actor Nicolas Cage.
So excuse Presley if she took her time figuring out a way to satisfy her own instinct and curiosity in a manner that neither denied nor exploited the family name.
Actually, the correct comparisons aren't between Presleys, but with a handful of contemporary women rockers, notably Sheryl Crow and Melissa Etheridge, as well as Cher and Alannah Myles, the one-hit wonder whose "Black Velvet" was a sultry homage to . . . Elvis Presley! That's because Lisa Marie has a low, soulfully smoky, blues-edged voice more notable for its depth than its range. That voice is well framed on a sleekly produced collection of radio-friendly adult contemporary rock that in no way ties Presley to the past. Which is not to say many of the songs don't examine the past, from the burden of parental loss (Lisa Marie was 9 when Elvis died in 1977) to exhumations of failed relationships.
In interviews, Presley has suggested that these songs represent "the real me" -- she's credited as solo lyricist on 10 of the album's 11 songs (one hidden). The roots of her expositional songwriting lie with producer Glen Ballard, who helped Alanis Morissette find her confessional/confrontational voice in the mid-'90s. Ballard started working with Presley in 1998 and actually finished an album with her, but the music was reportedly not a good fit. While Ballard remains listed as co-writer of five songs, the tightly polished "To Whom It May Concern" was produced by Eric Rosse, best known for his work with a similar singer-songwriter, Tori Amos.
Oddly, the catchy debut single, "Lights Out," was produced by Capitol Records President Andrew Slater, who knows something about working with the scions of revered pop icons (the Wallflowers' Jakob Dylan, son of Bob). Credited to Presley, Ballard and Clif Magness, "Lights Out" touches on the burden of family history as Presley (sounding like Crow on the verse and Cher on the chorus) huskily intones, "Someone turned the lights out there in Memphis / That's where my family's buried and gone / Last time I was there I noticed a space left / next to them there in Memphis in the damn back lawn." Okay, we believe she wrote the lyrics.
The only other song that connects father and daughter is the melancholy "Nobody Noticed It," in which Lisa Marie lambastes the King's old court for betraying his trust to profit from tabloid exploitation while doing nothing to help Elvis in his decline.
Not surprisingly, given her three failed marriages, Presley serves up a handful of rueful recriminations and angry kiss-offs (most of which seem directed at Cage, not Jackson). The toughest is "Sinking In," in which she rails against a lover's expectations, emphasizing his faults in a manner that feels very Morissette-ish. "Gone" is a lethargic elegy to romantic betrayal, while "Indifferent" is a dreary falling-apart song that seems right out of the British Miserablist school of songwriting. On the album's rough-edged opener, "S.O.B.," Presley projects a snarling toughness, though the cussing here and on several other cuts feels more flavorful than convincing.
While the album's title track would seem to be a salutation to the curious, or perhaps a challenge to the doubters, "To Whom It May Concern" is actually an editorial rant against prescribing behavioral drugs to children (it's a pet cause of the Church of Scientology, to which Presley belongs). The more personal "So Lovely" (using John Barry's musical theme from "Midnight Cowboy") is lovely, a languid, soft-spun devotional to Presley's two children in which she acknowledges, "You know I did something right / something that keeps me alive."
And there you have it: a solid if not spectacular debut, one that suggests promise but does not yet deliver on it. If Lisa Marie Presley hopes for a career that will last longer than any of her marriages, she's going to have to widen her sound, push her range, takes some risks. For now, Presley has faced down the demon of great expectations with grace. It's a brave start.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8152.)