LISA MARIE PRESLEY,
"NOW WHAT" (CAPITOL) ***
When the King's daughter made her unexpected, late-in-life musical debut
with "To Whom It May Concern" (2003), many critics couldn't get past her
gilded ancestry to grant that it was a pretty solid set of well-crafted
mainstream rock, distinguished primarily by Ms. Presley's smoky, sultry
growl and the sheer joy she took in spitting out nasty words. In Chicago,
we're not supposed to be unduly worried about nepotism; besides, she was
just as deserving of a turn at playing mainstream riot grrrl as younger
divas such as Avril Lavigne or Pink, who guests on a track here.
With a title that winks at lingering questions about her authenticity,
Lisa Marie returns with a sophomore effort that's just as strong as her
debut. By no means is she an auteur: The best tracks were co-written with
celebrity song doctor Linda Perry; the production (and no doubt the
pitch-shifting to perfect the vocals) are the best money can buy (courtesy
of Tori Amos veteran Eric Rosse). Whether she's learned how to deliver
onstage after her sketchy early shows remains a question mark.
Still, her biker-chick persona is hugely appealing and pretty convincing.
There's no way she's fronting when she boasts of being a "non-conforming
s**t-starter with the rebel DNA" or sneers, "You're an idiot and I hate your
guts." Tracks like "Turbulence," "Idiot" and "I'll Figure It Out" are even
strong enough to forgive her for covering Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry," and
that's saying something.
FAITH EVANS, "THE FIRST LADY" (CAPITOL) ** 1/2
On "Again," the second track from her eagerly awaited comeback, Faith
Evans lectures that we shouldn't believe everything we've read about her
alleged drug problems: "Everything ain't what it seems/Just because it's
on TV," she coos. The she adds in the choruses, "If I had to do it
all again/ I've learned so much from my mistakes." Hmmm, were there or
weren't there problems, Faith?
Whatever the reason, Evans has been missing from the hip-hop and R&B
scene for four years, during which the former Mrs. Biggie Smalls remarried,
doted on her children, moved to Los Angeles and split from P. Diddy's Bad
Boy empire. Now she's pushing hard to re-establish herself as a
genre-spanning diva on the level of a Mary J. Blige. Her fourth album
doesn't quite assure that, though there are some strong moments.
Evans is best when she's in her mellow "Quiet Storm" mode, as on "Again"
or "True Love," when she serenades us with an updated version of that
old-school Detroit groove and makes a convincing case for herself as a
modern Gladys Knight. She doesn't fare nearly as well when she attempts an
updated Aretha Franklin turn on "Mesmerized." And the three obligatory,
harder-edged duets with rappers, including the single "Hope," which features
Chicago hip-hop star Twista, just drag the disc down and distract from its