Out of the shadows

Over the years, we’ve seen no shortage of music by children of famous singers.

It has ranged from awful (Nelson) to good if extremely derivative (Ziggy Marley), but the truth is, each and every kid, from Hank Williams Jr. to Nancy Sinatra, came to the plate prejudged, the prospect of living up to The Famous Parent all but impossible.

So how do we approach “To Whom It May Concern,” the debut CD by Lisa Marie Presley? Well, we know two positive things right off: She didn’t do this to cash in, mainly because A) She was born very rich and, thanks to the continued fascination with Elvis, will die ever richer, and B) She’s not imitating Dad at all.

There are no cute little rock ‘n’ roll songs here, no Elvis covers, nothing that suggest Vegas and spangles and private jets. Lisa Marie’s voice is deep, husky and serviceable, nothing more. Not bad, but limited in its range. The same could be said of the music, which has flashes of rock ‘n’ roll but often goes for medium-to-slow folk-spiked pop: There are a lot of strummed acoustics, some strings here and there, and so on. Again, nothing exceptional.

What makes “Concern” interesting, though, is the range of topics addressed, from her famous dad on “Nobody Noticed It” to her brief marriage to Nicolas Cage on “Gone,” to families relying on anti-depressants to care for their children (the title track), to dealing with childhood memories on “Lights Out.” Presley, who wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the album, has a genuine knack for using specifics, such as always, as a kid, having her watch set to Memphis time, no matter where in the country she was living, to help create a mood that concisely chronicles her emotional terrain.

You’ll notice many of the subjects don’t approach “happy.” “Concern” is a dark record, full of anger (at Cage, at how her dad’s problems were ignored by his flunkies, at relationships that burn themselves out) and regret, and not a little self-loathing. One gets a sense that she’s harder on herself than anyone else could be, that being Elvis’ kid has been genuinely difficult emotionally, and that she has gone through numerous rockier-than-normal relationships. And that she’s still trying to figure out her relationship to her father’s memory, her past, and a world that will never, can never, judge her simply as herself.

You may ask if Michael Jackson is mentioned by name, or if she goes into detail on his problems with children. The answers are no and no. Nor is Cage mentioned by name. But that’s not the point. What is the point is that Presley has fashioned a CD that’s wholly apart, in tone and sound, from her dad’s work. That in itself is impressive, as is the lack of self-pity. This may be a dark CD, but it’s not a maudlin one.

There’s something genuine and moving when she sings “You’re still lovely/You were lovely then/All that you had to endure/I guess nobody noticed it” on “Nobody Noticed,” and it helps to remind us that, for all the weirdness, the Presleys were a real flesh-and-blood family that didn’t work out, and that Lisa Marie had to endure her folks divorcing and her dad dying, both in the world’s spotlight, before she was 10.

That’s a lot to ask of any child, and it should be no surprise that the little girl grew up to be a woman with issues (and strong opinions) about loyalty, trust and family.

Not that much of the world will appreciate it. “Concern,” with its curses, its unexceptional music and difficult subject matter, will probably please neither a whole lot of Elvis fans nor win raves from legions of rock fans.

It’s not going to set the world on fire, and doesn’t deserve to. But it is part of the story of America’s most famous singer, and a CD that does, at times, intriguingly portray a real, flawed and very famous woman. Take it for what it is: Music from a person who has lived a life that we can scarcely imagine, in good and bad ways.