Following the success of 2007's Songs of Love & Loss, one of Australia's most successful female musical exports, Tina Arena, returns with another collection of orchestral cover versions of classic pop songs. While its predecessor concentrated on the lounge-pop standards of the '60s and '70s, the second volume is ever so slightly more contemporary, with renditions of several hits from the early-'80s era which inspired Arena to pursue a singing career. Backed by Simon Hale's London Studio Orchestra, the 12-track release is far from the quick-buck karaoke affair favored by many less inventive artists, as apart from faithful renditions of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and Lulu's "Oh Me Oh My," Arena manages to put her own stamp on songs several decades old, with admittedly mixed results. Her take on the Carpenters' "Close to You" will undoubtedly shock fans of the Bacharach-penned classic, but its echoing Massive Attack-style trip-hop beats, haunting synth strings, and gothic operatic backing vocals are an impressively bold attempt to add a previously unheard sinister edge to the hopelessly romantic love song. It's an edge which is sorely lacking on her interpretation of the Police's stalker anthem "Every Breath You Take," which removes the dark undertones of the original and replaces it with an out of place, breezy, Sade-inspired cocktail bar arrangement. Elsewhere, Blondie's new-wave anthem "Call Me" is turned into a '60s-inspired Brill Building, girl group stomper; Canadian one-hit wonders the Promises' synth-glam number "Baby It's You" is given an overblown musical theater make-over, while the tribal drums, Hindu chanting, and Indian flutes on "Nights in White Satin" provides a Middle Eastern flavor to the Moody Blues' standard. But the album is far more convincing when Mark Blackwell and Greg Fitzgerald's bombastic production is toned down in favor of a more subtle and stripped-back vibe which allows Arena's sweet but powerful vocal abilities to shine. "Wouldn't It Be Good" is a gorgeous adaptation of Nik Kershaw's synth pop hit whose melancholic piano-based sound evokes the wintry balladry of Sarah McLachlan; "Only Women Bleed" is a tender, countrified reworking of Alice Cooper's bluesy tale of domestic abuse which enables Arena to unleash her Celine Dion-esque powerhouse tones, while her respectful cover of Elton John's "Your Song" emotes more feeling in its opening bars than the entirety of Ellie Goulding's recently celebrated version. With such a stunning voice, Arena should be a much bigger star than she is, but despite its admirable attempts to inject new life into some iconic songs, its inconsistency means that Songs of Love & Loss, Vol. 2 isn't going to change things any time soon.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien