Saturday, August 04, 2007

Tomorrow (2004) – Emma Bunton

Beneath the pigtails and babydoll dresses, Emma Bunton was the most comely member of the Spice Girls, innocently cloaking the group’s inherent raunchiness with her Baby Spice persona. But it would behoove many to regulate as a controlled substance the pleasurable seduction in her delicate, coquettish wisp of a voice in order to curtail mania by audio intoxication. With “Tomorrow,” Bunton tries on for size the role as long-overdue heiress to Olivia Newton-John’s throne and, at least for this moment in time, she is sitting pretty. Her breathy vocal quality imparts a gossamer sheen unto a lilting melody that evokes ‘60s mod sensibilities to puffs of horns à la Bacharach, elongated plumes of strings on loan from Percy Faith’s orchestra, and a lazy bossa nova worthy of Jobim’s blessings. Bunton’s tale of guiding her man through bouts of self-doubt and depression with the panacea of amorous affection even recalls the gender roles of a different era—more “Stand By Your Man” than “Independent Women, Part I”—and a far cry from Girl Power.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Life Is Like A Star (1983) – Sandie Shaw (Ilona Kish/Phil Sawyer/Sandie Shaw)

    “Life Is Like A Star” is the one song that would have been more appropriate than “Magic” playing in the background while Olivia Newton-John glided across the floor of what would eventually become Xanadu. Like an errant vestige of the bygone era of rollerskating pinball wizards, it skirts along the cusp of memories that are actually figments, perforating apertures of familiarity in that which is foreign. Sprightly echoes of staccato Rhodes piano radiate into psychotropic chord transitions that probably violate some theory of juxtaposition, frolicking to a nifty 15/8 time signature before settling into an easy disco sashay. In lyrically conjuring images of streaking celestial bodies sparking the colors of the universe and meshing to create “a richly woven symmetry of illusion,” the song betrays its likely genesis in the heavy use of hallucinogens, a de facto endorsement of under-the-influence creativity.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Xanadu (1980) – Electric Light Orchestra featuring Olivia Newton-John

    As part of the closing montage for the 1980 box office bomb, it channels the inspiration of a muse, creating a synergy of renewal between dreams gone by and dreams on the wane, fusing to breathe new life into a deserted building. The ultimate ode to a glorified rollerskating rink, “Xanadu” exploits Olivia Newton-John’s gift for altering sensorial perception through melody. From the opening synthesizer glissando, ELO’s conspicuous chord changes lay down the steps upon which Olivia’s voice perambulates, unlocking the realms of fantasy to the groove of the bassline’s gyrations. Electric piano, strings and Jeff Lynne’s trademark multi-part vocals purfle a kaleidoscopic arrangement as luminescent as the neon lights—and as celebratory as the protagonists’ triumphs—of which its lyrics speak.

    As payoff for enduring a dog of a movie and a tedious choreographed scene to commemorate the grand opening of Xanadu, Olivia emerges onto the screen to perform the title song in her final bow as a muse, having never looked more radiant in threatening to turn the viewer into a pillar of salt. Unforgivably, there’s a dearth of shots focusing on her, director Robert Greenwald’s shortsighted blunder preserved on film: you just don’t squander the opportunity to showcase such a natural beauty.

  • Listen to "Xanadu" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "Magic" (1980) – Olivia Newton-John