I recently spent some time writing an article about Olivia Newton-John's magnificent career for a website and had the chance to reflect on some of my favourite albums. I've already dedicated a post to the trash epic that is "Soul Kiss" and waxed lyrical about the pure brilliance of "Totally Hot" but I'm yet to write about "The Rumour", which I believe is a completely unique pop album. Pop music is almost exclusively aimed at teenagers and young adults. Madonna is old enough to be a grandmother but she still writes songs for 20 year old fags. It seems that divas either continue to cater for the young or turn into Celine Dion and start releasing concept albums for the post-menopausal crowd. Olivia's "The Rumour" is one of the few straightforward pop albums that straddles the great divide between youth driven music and granny pop. "The Rumour" was released in 1988 after Olivia had taken a 3 year hiatus to raise her daughter, Chloe.
Like any good diva, Olivia made an explosive return to the pop scene with a fabulous new mutton-dressed-as-lamb image and a brilliant new album. "The Rumour" was Olivia's last traditional pop album and stands up as one of her best. Unlike her later recordings which sometimes slide into granny pop territory, "The Rumour" was an attempt to make a contemporary pop album directed at adults. The idea of tackling issues like AIDS, single parenting and ageing within the context of trashy pop album is really quite revolutionary. Olivia's touching AIDS anthem, "Love And Let Live", inspired fans well before AIDS advocacy became trendy, while "It's Not Heaven" is an unusually frank commentary on single parenthood. The album might sound heavy but its not. The title track boasts one of the trashiest videos of Olivia's fabulous career and the closing track, "Tutta La Vita" is one of the defining pop trash moments of the 1980s. The video, which depicts Olivia doing the conga on a Navy ship, has to be seen to be believed. Sadly, the album was a failure everywhere except Australia. The general view was that Olivia was too old to compete with the new generation of pop tarts. All I can say is: Bitch, please!
Here is a review of "The Rumour" I wrote for Amazon:
"The Rumour" was Olivia's last real "pop" album before changing her focus to the adult contemporary market. That might have had something to do with the album's scathing reviews and commercial failure. Then again, maybe Olivia just felt the urge to move in a new direction. I really hope the reason was the latter because "The Rumour" is a great pop album, which was simply too eclectic for mainstream tastes at the time.
My favourite aspect of "The Rumour" is that Olivia finally has something to say. Olivia has since devoted entire albums to environmental issues and women's causes, but at the time the choice of subject matter was eye-opening. The fact that Olivia manages to cover topics such as AIDS, the environment, single parenting and working women without ever being overbearing or preachy, is a minor miracle.
The album begins with the Elton John penned title track. The song is rock-lite at its best but also sounds more like something Elton would have recorded in the 1970s than an 80s pop song. As a result and despite its quality, "The Rumour" is the only song that doesn't quite seem to fit with the others. The next song "Love And Let Live" must have been one of the first songs to deal with AIDS in the 1980s. Happily, this is not a maudlin ballad but an insanely catchy pop song complete with synth keyboards and is one of the album's highlights. This is followed by Olivia's restrained cover of "Can't We Talk It Over In Bed" and her environmental awareness song "Let's Talk About Tomorrow".
"It's Not Heaven" is one of the best songs Olivia has written. It is an unusual mid-tempo ballad about being a single mother, performed with real emotion. "It's Always Australia For Me" is a lovely nod to Australia's then bicentennial year, while "Get Out" is a funky anthem for the working woman. This is followed by "Big And Strong", which is one of the strangest songs Olivia has recorded. I'm not sure if it has an anti-war message or just unfortunate lyrics. Anyway, it sounds pleasant enough.
"Car Games" is a great 80s song about the dangers of love and another example of Olivia's gift for unusual lyrics. "Walk Through Fire" is a beautifully performed ballad and perhaps my favourite song on the album. The final song, "Tutta La Vita" closes the set on an upbeat note with an enjoyable piece of pop fluff about the important things in life.
"The Rumour" is an underappreciated 80s gem. Olivia's vocals are superb and the album shows her significant development as a songwriter. This album is highly recommended.
One of the many great things about "The Rumour" was the accompanying video album, which provides film clips for each song - usually with some kind of narrative. The video clips for "Tutta La Vita" and "Love And Let Live" below both originate from the video album:
Love And Let Live
Tutta La Vita - Possibly my favourite video ever!
"The Rumour" can be purchased from Chaos, Sanity and iTunes. International readers can buy the album from Amazon.