Olivia Newton-John

Making a Good Thing Better

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Newton-John has actually made a good thing blander on her 1977 release, in which she milks her tender innocence and soft vocals until all that is left is a drought-driven yearning for substance. She would later learn the rules of rock on Grease and Physical, but here she makes you suffer through an array of drippy ballads and folk music. "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" has been turned from soaring death-bed proclamation to bone-thin ballad. It is rare that a musical artist of Newton-John's stature would turn out an album that is completely bad, and indeed there are still some songs that make a showcase for her. Johnny Cash admirers will probably cringe at her version of "Ring of Fire," but it is great fun. "I Think I'll Say Goodbye" is upbeat country-pop in tradition of her hit "If You Love Me Let Me Know." Newton-John, whose voice is overtly feminine, works best with songs that are raw and untamed. It does not mean she should keep away from ballads, but on this selection of monotonously low-key ballads, she would at least benefit from less whimpering.

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