Friday, July 28, 2006

Soul Kiss

Note: I was rummaging through some old Word documents on my hard drive this morning and came across this gem. This was written back in the day when I was going to put CD reviews on my web page. It was kind of fun to read, so I thought I'd reproduce it here.
For most recording artists, there comes a point in their career where they tire of the same old same old, where putting out albums becomes routine and uneventful. To try to counteract this malaise, it’s common practice for artists to complete reinvent themselves, or at least revamp their sound. More often than not, established artists with a trademark sound find themselves adapting that sound to fit in with current trends and fads.

Such is the case for Soul Kiss, a 1985 album by Olivia Newton-John. Olivia who had racked up success on both the country-western and pop charts with hits such as “Let Me Be There,” “Please Mr. Please,” and “Physical”, released this misguided but delightfully guilty pleasure right around the time that Madonna was starting to hit the scene (from my nearest calculations, “Like A Virgin” was released just prior to or around the same time as this CD.) The attempts to make over Olivia’s “goody-goody” image with a sexy veneer prove to be unwise.

Musically, the album is fairly strong. “Toughen Up,” a composition of frequent Tina Turner collaborators Terry Britten & Graham Lyle, starts out the CD on a good note, with a pseudo-reggae style and fun lyrics on female empowerment. This segues into the title track, which was the first single from the album. This song is a sexy ballad where Livvy is repeatedly “getting down on [her] knees” to thank her baby—yikes! “Queen Of The Publication” is completely nonsensical but is perhaps the most fun song on the CD. With synthesizers layered over the driving beat of a typewriter(!), the song details a story of how Olivia, who works for a sleazy tabloid will do anything to get the dirt on her subject, and hence will become the “queen of the publication.” “Emotional Tangle,” a fairly straightforward ballad which, while it can seem to find no other rhyme for “tangle” than “angle”, features an excellent vocal performance by Olivia. Livvy tries to shock us once more before the halfway point with “Culture Shock,” a song-story about Olivia involved with two men (one assumes) and imploring her boyfriend to consider something that the Olivia who sang “I Honestly Love You” would never even dream of! “I know it’s unconventional/Radical, but practical/Why can’t the three of us live together?/It’s a culture shock/But it’s the only hope we’ve got!” Besides being the obvious theme song for a “Three’s Company” reunion, the song is laughable and the “shock” probably wasn’t even that much of a shock back in 1985 and certainly isn’t shocking at all now.

Track 6 is “Moth To A Flame.” This song boasts complex lyrics and classic 80s synths, which make it one of the better songs on the CD. Considering the quality of “Moth To A Flame,” it’s too bad that it had to be followed by “Overnight Observation.” Olivia hit a new career low with yet another song-story of Livvy’s late night trip to the doctor’s office. The doctor thinks that Olivia needs to be held overnight for observation, all the while serving martinis, turning the lights down low, and asking his patient to take off her shoes and slip into something comfortable. Don’t worry—Olivia escapes with her virtue intact! On track 8, Olivia duets with late Beach Boy Carl Wilson on a song with (again) a shocking title—“You Were Great (How Was I?)” As usual, the innuendo is lost if you really listen to the lyrics of the song. Instead of being about a one night stand (as one might expect from the tone of this whole album), it’s about a love that’s faded (“something went wrong/between hello and goodbye”). While a capable song, it founders under sloppy production and subpar vocal performances on the part of both singers. The album kicks into high gear one last time with “Driving Music”—a tale of a taxi cab driver that listens to the radio station while on the night beat. “Driving Music” could have been a very successful single for Olivia, had the Soul Kiss project in general not been such a dismal failure. The last track is “The Right Moment” which is a dramatic ballad, featuring Livvy in the extremely high end of her range. Generally, I skip the last song, preferring instead to end on a high note.

While the songs on their own are generally subpar, this album has somehow stood the test of time with me. As I alluded before, Soul Kiss is guilty pleasure #1 for me. I recognize the album as being a product of the 80s, but most especially as being a product of Olivia trying to revamp herself into something a la Madonna. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out quite the way the record company wanted, and marked the end of Olivia’s mainstream career. People magazine summed it up best when in reviewing this album pleaded with Olivia to put her shirt back on!

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