Lisa Marie Presley has just released her first album, and it’s better than suspicious minds would think — a flawed but promising debut. To Whom It May Concern is a 12-song set of country-flecked rock with wedges of pop and not a little surliness. This is a CD you’re meant to blast as a borrowed f — – you to those who thwart, misunderstand, interfere with, and otherwise annoy you. And Presley’s got the right voice for the job. Her rich, smoky vocals evoke Sheryl Crow and occasionally bear traces of Courtney Love’s ragged disaffection (”Nobody Noticed It”).
The music’s consistently involving, too. The anthemic ”The Road Between” is built around the shimmering twang of a guitar and a petulant chorus: ”You’re all I see/And it’s definitely my fault.” The first single, ”Lights Out,” is rallying and honky-tonk-derived. And the sweetly downcast ”So Lovely,” a tribute to the singer’s children, makes melancholy use of the theme from ”Midnight Cowboy.”
If only the whole thing didn’t seem so tidy. The tunes come off as calculated in their gritty appeal, like musical corollaries of the expertly faded jeans sold at the mall. Presley is frequently listed as cocomposer, but it’s more likely that ”Concern”’s canniness is the work of, among other contributors, Glen Ballard (who produced Alanis Morissette’s ”Jagged Little” breakthrough) and producer Eric Rosse (Tori Amos).
And when there are imperfections, they’re not artistic foibles that texturize. They’re lyrical lapses. ”I had a good feeling when I woke up/But I missed it ’cause I was sleeping,” goes a confusing couplet from bonus track ”Excuse Me.” On ”Important,” she sings: ”You need to bring me my food first/I’m not the one you want to starve.” Let’s just say she’s not quite ready for ”VH1 Storytellers.”
Still, ”To Whom It May Concern” generally delivers the sort of sonic catharsis that Presley, who has described this album as being the real her, was trying for. And if it proves her to be a viable rock singer, well, we can think of at least one person who would not have been at all surprised.