Donna Summer – [Album]

Friday, 30 May 2008

No matter how you slice it – for good or ill, negative or positive – it’s impossible to measure Donna Summer’s impact upon pop music. Once dubbed “the queen of disco,”the single most repeated line in hip hopand modern R&B, “love to love you baby,” is from her greatest hit by the same name. By the same token, she’s been cited by name as representing one of the things that the original wave of New York punks were rebelling against by Television’s Tom Verlaine. Her songs have been covered by everyone from Madonna to Kylie Minogue to Blondie to John Frusciante to Dolly Parton. Her song “Ruby Trax” is widely regarded as one of the most sampled recordings in dance music history. Love or hate what she represents and the music she’s made, you have to respect that.

Now sixty years of age (though you wouldn’t know it by the very airbrushed photos that grace Crayons’ liner notes), Summer has returned with her first album in seventeen years and what’s surprising is the fact that she not only proves that she hasn’t lost a step from the opening chant of “Stamp Your Feet”, she also puts dancing queens twenty years or more her junior to shame (I’m not looking in Madonna’s general direction when I say that, I’m looking right at her).

Summer is also not foolish enough to assume that her fans have been waiting with baited breath for another album so doesn’t try to attempt any dramatic changes to her sound. In songs like “Drivin’ Down Brazil“, “I’m A Fire” and the self-aware “The Queen Is Back”, Donna Summer retakes the dance floor with no trouble and no hesitation through a succession of heavy-beating, heavy-breathing numbers that masterfully intermingle thhe vintage R&B vibes of disco with the modern, computer-generated frenzy of today’s Top 40 nightclubs. Unlike Shirley Bassey’s last offering which found that singer crowning the mixes and guiding them from the crest of that wave, Summer has absolute control of these songs and her vocals part the waves of each one to either side to let her through. There are no grand statements to make here outside of having people move their feet and, astonishingly, Summer is in incredibly fine voice on Crayons too; bearing no hint of her age, she’ll have no trouble blending in with those singers that are a third her age currently dominating dance floors.

At the same time all of that is going on, Summer does find ways to stretch beyond what is obviously the finest form of comeback into territory previously unexplored for her. “Sand On My Feet” brings the tempo down for a high school slow dance while “Slide Over Backwards” pulls hardest from roots rock and blues to arrive at a sort of Tina Turner-esque rave-up that will attract the wallflowers that are generally disinterested in the rest of the record because they can’t dance.

Finally, “Be Myself Again” takes Madonna to school and shows her what a confession on a dance floor really sounds like. In that song, Donna Summer encapsulates her entire career – her triumphs and her follies – and finds redemption in the musical form that brought her fame and infamy but hasn’t faltered on her no matter how badly she’s neglected it.

The question, of course, remains: “Can a sixty-year-old still rule her notoriously youth-geared genre?” That question will really have to be answered by how Crayons is marketed as all bets are off. No matter how people find it though, it`s difficult to find fault with Donna Summer`s return and the story remains the same: love or hate what she represents or the music that she proves she`s still able to make with Crayons, you have to respect it.

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