Messing with the classics can be a dangerous business. However, as the music industry’s need to find new product has become more and more pressing, so the hard-line attitude to what is fair game for a once over has softened. If The Beatles, once the last bastion of saying no, are happy to offer their songs up for a video game then who else can argue that their music should be left as it always was. Even better if the project carries with it some sort of artistic credibility, as opposed to a simple cash in.
Step forward, spring forward even, Cirque Du Soleil and their latest Las Vegas spectacular, Viva Elvis. They have form when it comes to popular music of course, having delved into the Beatles vaults for the Love show, which came with a soundtrack overseen by Sir George Martin and his son Giles. Viva Elvis, although very much designed to complement the visuals, still represents an attempt to bring Presley’s music into the 21st century.
As such, the album is a disappointment – initially at any rate. There is nothing that comes even close to the chances taken on Love, which themselves amounted to only a bit of tinkering here and there. The approach taken here is even more basic, starting with the original recording and simply adding much louder bass, drums and guitar alongside a few news samples. Live with the record a little, however, and it all starts to make more sense. While these new versions may not bring anything new to the originals, they certainly capture something of their spirit.
It helps that the producers have chosen material that best represents the real Presley, concentrating on the early years and, ‘Burning Love’ aside, closing the book at 1969. There’s no doubt that they could have added more light and shade to proceedings, as the best moments come when that haunting, raw production of the original numbers breaks through the modern sheen. Yet once you decide to go with it, you really do go with it – even the pair of beyond the grave duets (‘Love Me Tender’ and ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’) – and once ‘Burning Love’ roars into life you’d have to be the most pure of purists not to twitch your hips, even a little.
All the way through, the spectre of closing track ‘Suspicious Minds’ looms large, and the fear that the album will destroy this most perfect of pop moments. It doesn’t. What it does do is make it sound, not better than the original certainly for such a feat is impossible, but as equally alive. When those horns kick in you realise that, yes, this is still some of the most joyous, life affirming music ever made and nothing can ever change that. Not even a bloke on a trapeze.