Donna Summer is trying for a comeback that’s a bit overdue. The diva delivers a set of brand new tracks that does indeed have the variant and roving colours of a pack of Crayola. But before anyone starts waxing lyrical on a triumphant return they’ll have to listen up.
It would have been a dereliction of her disco duties if she hadn’t tried to provide trump tracks like lead single Stamp Your Feet and title track, the dancehall meets doo-wop , Crayons (feat Ziggy Marley). but the rest of the album doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
Summer is in fantastic voice and has every asset to contribute to the attitude in The Queen Is Back. But the word hubris springs to mind. The pounding synths, keyboard and swathes of electro are from an old vanguard of power anthem. It would have fit quite well in the early-’90s with its weak stab at rapping. Likewise Fame (The Game) (see what she did there?) has a full dance theme coupled with musical theatre’s dramatic energy. But it’s that poor musicality, that dull lyrical lethargy which feels so outmoded and cringe-worthy to listen to on a pop record.
Arguably one of the better tracks is Sand On My Feet. It’s an easy listening track that suits her mature presentation comfortably. Similarly, because of the downshift of pace and Latin flavour, Drivin’ Down Brazil succeeds. It is as if she has brought her disco finesse to colour over the old standard Girl from Ipanema. Slide Over Backwards, a country and blues effort presents Summer doing an odd Macy Gray/Tina Turner impression but at least makes for engaging and interesting listening.
The intro to Be Myself Again sounds uncannily like the introduction of Sympathy For The Devil. The more reflective, the more obvious the searching for a sensibility on any given track, the more likely Summer is to sound like she is enjoying herself. Just as on the afro-tinged Bring Down The Rain she communicates a message of unity and hope effectively, if a little worthily. But evidently happily.
Overall, her seminal singles from the ’70s stand so far apart from these mostly perfunctory lyrics and cheap production values that listeners could hardly be other than disappointed. I’m A Fire is ripe for a remix. It is a bland, soulless addition and more than a little irritating half way through the album. What does “You’re like water on my chocolate” mean anyway? Nor will Mr Music totally please the ear, but people can indulge themselves with the fresh, military Gwen Stefani-esque flourishes but words such as “I love music, so naughty, naughty” are, well, just a bit naff.
Nearly all the tracks follow the same blueprint. There is pounding bass, repetitive chorus’s, dodgy rhymes not to mention that the tedious majority of these songs are over four minutes. Autobiographical, hopeful, working through different genres, one can’t help but feel that if she had stretched herself while remaining focused just on quality dance-pop that the record would have been fantastic and not such a sad sunset on the legendary Summer.