"Physical" and "Make a Move on Me" were brilliant singles from 1981's Physical album, and they achieved their status as timeless pop classics without the help of a Xanadu soundtrack. "Overnight Observation" from Soul Kiss doesn't come close to the magic of those radio gems. It, like the front and back cover photos, seems a bit contrived, as does much of this album. "You Were Great, How Was I?" is a duet with Carl Wilson, and features he and Christopher Cross providing authentic Beach Boys harmonies. Despite the saxes of Tom Scott, the synths of Newton-John songwriter Tom Snow, and superb support from Lee Ritenour and the late Carlos Vega, the song feels like an outtake from John Travolta and Grease V. "Toughen Up" opens the album with power, but without the authority of "Physical" or the charm of her early country pop albums. The country market is completely abandoned here, and though "Toughen Up" gets more bearable after repeated spins, it is far removed from the gal who sang Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and the Bee Gees' "Come on Over" almost a decade earlier. Olivia looks like Missing Persons singer Dale Bozzio on the cover, and sounds a bit like her on "Toughen Up." "Soul Kiss." the title track, is actually a good, dark, moody song written by Mark Goldenberg, who also plays synthesizer on it. Producer John Farrar is on Synclavier and guitar, with Newton-John providing her own eerie backing vocals. The tune nicked the Top 20, and though that is three spaces higher than what "Come on Over" achieved in 1976, the earlier tune topped the A/C charts as well. Olivia seems to have abandoned her strongholds, adult contemporary and country, her superstar status not worthy of this temporary image, a transition which needed stronger material for this big a change. An excellent song like "Soul Kiss" could very well be Olivia Newton-John's cult hit because of the confusion of this project, a bit goth mixed with techno, it flies out of the park. The rest of the album misses the enduring texture of her hits from the Totally Hot album, "A Little More Love" and "Deeper Than the Night," moods that could have continued to work here. Still, Olivia Newton-John reigned as queen of the pop charts for a 14-year stretch, from "If Not for You" in July of 1971 to "Soul Kiss" in October of 1985. Many people went from their teens to their thirties with her music in their lives. If the song "Soul Kiss" didn't get the penetration on the airwaves, music like "Emotional Tangle" and select other cuts on this album would make for wonderful additions to the inevitable Olivia Newton-John boxed set, even if the album, as a whole, is one of the weaker links in Olivia's remarkable chain.
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AllMusic Review by Joe Viglione
feat: Carl Wilson