Album Review: Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton John

Last year Juliana Hatfield released the bruising and brilliant album Pussycat (read my review here), exploring the bitter realities of the world right now. The only light relief on the album was the song Sunny Somewhere which dreamed of escaping to a happier place. Juliana ended up finding that paradise by retreating into the music of her childhood hero, Olivia Newton John and after seeing her in concert she decided to record a tribute album. This collection is a pure celebration of the joy of pop music, a love letter from one incredible woman to another.

On paper it would seem like a nineties alternative rocker and a seventies pop icon would have little in common but listening to this album you realise the influence has always been there in Juliana’s music – maybe not sonically but in the melodies and purity of her vocals. Opener ‘I Honestly Love You’ tones down a little of the schmaltz of the original with some grungy guitars but the vulnerability of the song remains. There something perfect about a song with these lyrics being the opener on a tribute album: This is pure and simple / And you should realize / That it’s coming from my heart and not my head / I love you / I honestly love you. It’s fitting too that she reprises it to finish the album.

Songs like A Little More Love and Have You Never Been Mellow really sound as though they could have been on any Juliana album, such is their perfect indie pop feel. Physical and Make A Move On Me are edgy and full of lust – not the kind of lyrics you usually expect Juliana to sing either but maybe that’s why they work so unexpectedly well.

Other highlights on the album come from the Xanadu soundtrack, like Suspended in Time, Magic and of course the incredible title track which still sounds as weird and perfect as ever. ONJ’s most famous song Hopelessly Devoted to You is delivered straight, Juliana conveying the sadness inherent in this unrequited love anthem. The character of Sandy from Grease was an icon for good girls everywhere but in the end the part has overshadowed much of the rest of Olivia Newton John’s career.

As her music remains underrated you can’t underestimate how significant it is when an artist pays tribute like Juliana has on this album (Country Universe have started a series of posts about her legacy which is a good place to start if you are interested in reading more). Pop music is too often dismissed and maybe that’s because the majority of artists and fans of this genre are women.

Juliana actually ended up splitting up her band Blake Babies because of musical differences – her love of lush sleek pop music like Wilson Phillips clashed with their alternative influences. In her biography she writes about this concluding, ‘I didn’t think just because something was cynically and ruthlessly designed for and marketed to the idiot philistine masses didn’t mean it was necessarily not fun to listen to.’ Indie music snobbery is just so infuriatingly boring to me. Sometimes throwaway fun pop songs are exactly what the world needs.

So yeah, I honestly loved it.

Let’s get physical copies as soon as possible: https://www.alr-music.com/collections/the-juliana-hatfield-three/products/juliana-hatfield-hopelessly-devoted-to-olivia-pre-order

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