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Music

Review: Hatfield hopelessly devoted to Olivia Newton-John tunes, and it shows (Grade: B-plus)

At the risk of being that guy, I’m going to write another review of modern-day rock artists doing covers of a ‘70s pop icon.

Last week, I reviewed the mostly terrible remakes of Elton John songs by pop artists (“Revamp”) and country musicians (“Restoration).

This week, I bring you “Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John.”

OK, I can hear your eyes rolling. They’re rolling so hard I can literally hear them.

A few things first.

Who the heck is Juliana Hatfield, you might ask? She’s an indie rocker whose peak popularity came in the 1990s with the single “My Sister.”

Ringing no bells? Well, certainly you know who Olivia Newton-John is. She played Sandy in the film version of “Grease.” She was a Top 40 radio mainstay in the late 1970s and early 1980s with such hits as “I Honestly Love You,” “Physical” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”

Did I enjoy Newton-John’s music when I was a kid? Sort of, but not particularly.

So, yeah, I rolled my eyes a bit, too, when I saw “Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John” released last Friday.

You know what? It’s quite good.

No, let me explain.

There’s no denying how melodicly hooky the choruses of Newton-John’s top singles were. The production and performances of those singles, though, were, well, bubble-gummy enough to dampen the mood.

Hatfield, who has long cited Newton-John as one of her top influences, manages to bring a guitar rock edge to 13 songs while remaining true to the campy feel of the originals.

That new take on old songs works best where you might least expect it. Hatfield’s version of “Physical” is fun, where the original was kind of annoying. A reworking of “Xanadu” dials down the gloss just enough to let the subtle, fuzzy guitar give the undeniable earworm of a song an interesting twist. Same with “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “A Little More Love.”

Who knew Olivia Newton-John’s songs were just needing to rock a little harder?

Not everything works, of course. “Totally Hot,” the title track of Newton-John’s 1978 album that was meant to rework the artist’s image after she was a goody-goody in “Grease,” is an unsalvageably bad song. And too much of the schlock factor remains in Hatfield’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

But the misses are far fewer than the hits in this unexpectedly enjoyable covers collection.

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