Olivia Newton-John

Stronger Than Before

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Stronger Than Before is no hallmark in Olivia Newton-John's catalog, but it was released in the U.S. by the Hallmark label, which is about accurate. Those who relish the profundity of gift card messages may find it deeply inspiring. Everyone else could scratch off the words to some of the songs and get a kindergartner to come up with something more meaningful. In the ballad "Can I Trust Your Arms" Olivia added her own music to lyrics given to her as a Christmas gift by her daughter Chloe Lattanzi. It's a sweet notion, and her voice demonstrates true belief in the lyrics. But when the lyrics include a phrase like "My tears would always hide when I looked into your eyes/But now I know that you see beauty in my human cries," it's a gift best left between mother and daughter. But then, this review is a bit too harsh for a collection of midtempo and balladry that wish only to comfort and sweep gloom away, and evidently were put together with breast cancer victims in mind. Olivia brings her usual elegance to the project and does a lot of vocal compensating for the lyrical faults of the good-natured songs. There are songs here about overcoming life struggles, believing in dreams, the power in being a woman, inner beauty, loving your neighbor, the mystery of life, love after death, trusting in love, and the actual "Serenity" prayer. What the songs don't have are layers beneath those topics, or story, or details, or much of anything to let them pass through a surface level and make a lasting connection. Olivia accomplished that task on her 1994 album Gaia, which was also a "message" album, but resounded with liveliness and depth. On Stronger Than Before, Olivia's writing collaborator and producer, Amy Sky, lends a remake of her song "Phenomenal Woman," an adaptation of the poem by Maya Angelou. It's a soulful song, described in the liner notes as a "sensuous celebration," and features contributing vocals by Delta Goodrem, Amy Sky, Mindy Smith, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Amy Holland, Diahaan Carroll, and Patti LaBelle. It's a bit messy in rhythm, no doubt due to cramming extended poetry into an appropriate length pop song, but thank goodness for it, because the album would be a few repetitions too many of the Sesame Street theme song without it.

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