Olivia Newton-John

MCA, 1981

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


That sound could only mean one thing -- the opening notes of Olivia Newton-John's Physical. Right from this odd and edgy opening track, “Landslide,” we get the impression that Olivia has changed and was ready for the 80s.

The cover image of her with shorn hair, tanned complexion and ecstatic expression seems to say it all. One thing was certain, Olivia Newton-John wasn’t about to let Jane Fonda corner the market on sweatbands and workout tapes.

As her highwater mark creatively and commercially, Physical also proved Olivia's music had some muscle behind it. Sandwiched in between two great soundtrack projects, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Physical is one of those albums that starts strong and rarely lets up, save for some sleepy ballads to fill up space.

Virtually the entire first half of the disc is top-notch, especially “Stranger’s Touch” and “Love Make Me Strong,” two songs that are more on the Totally Hot rock tip. My sister’s favorite Olivia single, “Make A Move On Me,” is another bouncy number that is harmless fun and finds the Australian going into her sex-kitten mode.

Still, nowhere is Olivia Newton-John steamier than on the legendary hit title track, which came out of nowhere to become the No. 1 single for the decade. Not much else to say about it, except that I wish it had a better video (most of Olivia’s videos are somewhat cloying, awkward and sometimes even embarrassing. Curses be to MTV, even if the 80s were more about image than anything else).

The other best track that Physical has to offer is “Silvery Rain,” though some would argue “The Promise (The Dolphin Song)” because it is one of the rare tunes actually penned by Olivia herself. There are many reasons I prefer “Silvery Rain,” however. First of all, it is one of those complex songs with many moving parts and alternates between several different tempos. Then, there is the fact that the lyrics carry a very important theme that is still relevant today: We must do all we can to preserve and clean up our environment. Great message in a great song.

For whatever reason, producer John Farrar opted to go with a bunch of sleepy ballads in fleshing the album out. The problem is that these tracks do nothing more than suck the energy out from the entire album. A couple of slow songs would have been sufficient, but stuffing half the album with them is going a little far. This is, after all, one album that seems to demand upbeat excitement from start to finish.

Yet there’s plenty of classic material to be found on Physical, and as with exercise, balance and consistency are what yield results. A tad bit more of both would have made this one a true classic, instead of the near-classic it is.

Rating: A-

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© 2007 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA, and is used for informational purposes only.