Lisa Marie does King proud

Debut single, album by Presley prove to be distinctive, not gimmicky

February 18, 2003|By Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

What are the odds that the debut single by the daughter of the king of rock 'n' roll would be anything more than a fleeting novelty?

Fifty to one? Fifty thousand to one? Take that bet.

Lisa Marie Presley's first single, "Lights Out," is a powerful, hauntingly personal work.

Capitol Records released "Lights Out" to radio stations a week ago, and many of the nation's most powerful pop outlets have added it to their playlists.

Presley's gutsy, blues-edged voice has a distinctive flair, and her lyrics on the song feature a memorable image about going through life under the weight of the Elvis Presley legacy:

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 in Memphis in the damn back lawn.

In the accompanying video, Presley, who shares her father's striking, pouty good looks, shows ample charisma and presence, and other key songs on her album also have a strong, introspective edge. That collection, titled To Whom It May Concern, will be released April 8.

Lots of celebrity offspring have enjoyed pop success, including the sons or daughters of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, John Lennon and Brian Wilson. But no offspring arrives with as much public curiosity surrounding her as Presley, as measured by the constant tabloid attention and her high-profile former marriages to Michael Jackson and Nicolas Cage.

Far from the anonymous pop that dominates radio these days, "Lights Out" and other songs on the album are hard-edged reflections on Presley's experiences and relationships - and they didn't come easily. She has been exploring a music career for more than a decade and spent more than four years at Capitol working on this album before she felt comfortable with it.

"Most people want to be pop stars because they want attention, but I've already had plenty of attention," Presley, 35, said by phone from Houston, where she was on a brief promotional tour of top radio stations. "I wanted the music to be real so that people would know who I am based on my artistry, not based on what they might have read about me."

Presley, who was 9 when her father died in 1977, began working in 1998 with writer-producer Glen Ballard, whose Java Records label was affiliated with Capitol. He's best known for his work with Alanis Morissette on the Grammy-winning Jagged Little Pill, another pop-rock collection with a dark, personal tone. As he had with Morissette, Ballard helped Presley gain confidence as a writer and helped shape her vision in the studio.

Presley, who was raised by her mother, actress Priscilla Presley, wrote "Lights Out" with Ballard and songwriter Clif Magnes, but progress on the album was slow. The project was jump-started when Andy Slater took over as president of Capitol Records in 2001. He was intrigued by some of the songs, but he felt Presley's creative voice was lost in the arrangements.

"I was impressed when I read the lyrics," said Slater, who had previously worked as record producer and manager with Jakob Dylan, Fiona Apple and Macy Gray. "I felt this was someone who was facing the real issues of her life, but I couldn't find the soul of the artist in the record."

Slater, who produced the "Lights Out" single, put Presley together with Eric Rosse, who produced Tori Amos' first two albums, to rework the record.

Dan Hubbert, senior vice president of promotion for Capitol Records, says mainstream pop radio stations have been so enthusiastic that he predicts "Lights Out" will be a Top 10 single.

"The remarkable thing about the single is that normally you try to break a new record in small markets and then hope it gets so popular that big-market stations jump on it, but the big stations are going right on it - and it's not because she's a celebrity. That's not enough to get airplay on these stations."

Presley said she was pleased about the early radio response to the single, but she was more interested in talking about the music.

"This whole process was a great big ride for me," Presley said. "On the album, I tried to address every facet of my life, everything that is important to me or outstanding in my life. The single is my take on one part of it - a dark, ominous look at where I've come from. I don't think I was ready, emotionally or creatively, to do that until now."

Robert Hilburn writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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