The pairing is complete nostalgia. There is no other reason that John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John are together for a Christmas album aside from the fact that they were both cast together in a small little movie musical called Grease over thirty years ago.
Grease has flourished since its first run on charm alone. How else can you explain the impossible plot of an Australian immigrant-who is hot off an innocent summer fling with a local gearhead-as she navigates the social landscape of high school with a collective of sexually active girls, headed by a 34-year old Stockard Channing?
As the main characters in the film, Olivia and Travolta aren’t particularly compatible on screen and their voices don’t blend together all that notably during their duets. Regardless, they have managed to become the biggest selling duet in pop history and their presence in Grease completes the film’s campy homage to 50’s B-movies, giving all of that aforementioned improbability a free pass.
How these characters managed to ride Greased Lightening up through the skies and endured for so long is pretty remarkable, so the idea of both of them returning together to perform Christmas music isn’t completely out of the realm. Unfortunately, when one doesn’t properly attend to the execution of such a reunion, what you get is a record that’s more acknowledged for its weird aftertaste than musical notoriety.
I won’t even mention the cover, because it’d be like bitching about how Kraft Macaroni and Cheese tastes nothing like a homemade batch of the gooey comfort food. This is truth in advertising, and the only thing that would make the cover of This Christmas more awesome is if Travolta sported a cheesy seasonal sweater.
As hard as it is to be polite about the cover art, I simply cannot get away from all of the tabloid overtones when Travolta takes over the resistant role of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” We’re all accustomed to Olivia’s occasional glimpses as the sexual aggressor (Shake Shack, anyone?), but to hear Danny Zuko put up a fight to Sandy’s advances thirty years after the fact makes for a perfect hushed whisper of “Beard!”
There are other laugh-out-loud moments within This Christmas that are much less juvenile, but equally surreal. Like the part during “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” when Barbara Streisand pops in for a verse for absolutely no reason at all.
Speaking of guest cameos, there are tons of ‘em. From another brake-slamming appearance (this time with James Taylor on “Deck The Halls”) to a not-so-subtle nod to the Scientology folks with some ivory-tickling from Chick Corea, John and Olivia bring a whole slew of friends to join in their Christmas spirit and it’s as sincere as you pretending to think the gag gift you get at work during your department’s holiday party is funny.
There’s octogenarian Tony Bennett who drops in for “Winter Wonderland,” if you count having your verses recorded at a completely different studio during a completely different session as “dropping in.”
ONJ brings out longtime musical partner John Farrar for the record’s lone original track “I Think You Might Like It.” Farrar was responsible for many of Olivia’s biggest hits, and he served as both the writer and producer for “You’re The One That I Want,” the hit single that propelled the pair into the record books.
Farrar’s latest tune for is being called the sequel to that Grease classic, and it’s hard to dispute that claim since it follows nearly the same chord progression under the guise of some light country swag.
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Clearly, I’m not the man who should be reviewing This Christmas because I’m overflowing with cynicism at every turn.
So I ask my wife, who often fills the house with a bit of Christmas singing of her own during the holidays, to offer her opinion of the pairing. Suddenly, I find her singing along with This Christmas, causing me to consider that maybe it is my jaded outlook that’s causing me to be so dismissive of this holiday collection.
When I ask her if This Christmas has caused her spontaneous outburst of seasonal caroling, she admitted that it wasn’t the quality of the songs that prompted her singing, but just the familiarity of the material.
Indeed, the selection doesn’t stray to far from the obligatory set list that every holiday record seems to cull from. Case in point: ONJ has now selected “Silent Night” for every single Christmas album she has released.
This Christmas is the perfect holiday record for anyone who has been waiting since Two Of A Kind for the return of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. Beyond that, This Christmas is another run-of-the-mill collection of uninspired holiday classics featuring a bunch of questionable guest appearances and two longstanding friends who can’t seem to get away from those hallowed halls of Rydell High.
An extra star has been added for this release as all proceeds from the sale of This Christmas go to the artist’s charitable foundations.
This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.