Monday, 12 January 2009

1980 Olivia Newton John and ELO: Xanadu

Contemporaneously promoted as the natural successor to 'Grease', Xanadu (the film) saw Olivia Newton John playing a kind of Greek (via Melbourne), roller skating muse who inspires the owner of a new nightclub (the titular 'Xanadu') where Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra were the house band. Some three decades later, it still doesn't make a barrel of sense when written down like that, which may have had something to do with why the whole enterprise was viciously slated by the critics and ultimately  bombed at the box office. The title track though did manage to get to number one, and it's the one thing that immediately springs to mind whenever this whole doomed project is mentioned.

It starts off well enough - Olivia's yell of 'A PLACE!' remains a cry of pure exhilaration, the sound of someone kicking open the door to ecstasy with the promise of good times ahead. Unfortunately, the band behind her don't follow her through it; ELO are hardly a name that springs to mind when considering a roll call of outfits with disco chops,  and if Liv is the violently beautiful, completely unobtainable sixth form girl dancing unselfconsciously alone at the school disco, Jeff and the boys are the surly, testosterone fuelled, socially incompetent fifth formers watching impotently from the sidelines, willing their pints of cider to give them enough courage to get involved. They may have the best of intentions, but when it comes to locking into any kind of groove then, frankly, they are quite simply hopeless; you can't carry much of a dance beat on a cello and the end result sounded kitsch and retro long before the current vogue for eighties theme bars. An environment, incidentally, where this track now seems ideally suited. So once again water finds its own level. Whether that's a good or bad thing is one for the listener.

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