Call it a roller-coaster career: Few artists have risen to such great heights then dropped so tremendously as dance diva Donna Summer. In the late 1970s she was producing topnotch, genre-defining disco such as 1977’s opus “I Feel Love” in Munich with music production legends Pete Bellotte and Giorgio Moroder. But by 2000 she’d been reduced to singing the theme from that Pokemon movie. Ouch. Between that, she’s released some fairly dodgy pop (the bloodcurdling “She Works Hard for the Money”), some catchy fluff (the Stock-Aitken-Waterman gem “This Time I Know It’s for Real”) and rare flashes of brilliance (“State of Independence”). A most disjointed career, to say the least.
Her new album Crayons, just released on Sony’s new Burgundy imprint, is her first full album of new material since 1991’s utterly dire Mistaken Identity. Interestingly, Summer has hired a variety of producers including Danielle Brisebois (Natasha Bedingfield, Kelly Clarkson) and Greg Kurstin (Nelly Furtado, Lily Allen) to give her new music an extra-fresh glossy sheen.
On the Rihanna-esque title track she doesn’t sound anything like she’s supposed to, which is both good and bad. Rihanna impersonations aside, it’s not a bad track, but Rihanna could do it better which makes it feel a tad pointless. On the other hand, “Science of Love” hits that perfect Donna Summer stride. The album is an odd balance. One second she’s herself, but the next she’s ditched her gracious maturity to belt out something unmemorable and disposable.
Further in, she seems to want to be herself again on “Be Myself Again,” a haunting ballad which sounds during the first 30 seconds just like “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones. “The Queen is Back” is an interesting track as she refers to herself in the third person, singing “So many years ago/ On the radio/ She crept into your soul/ And loved to love you.” It’s one of the album highlights, an affirmation that she may at last be back and finally comfortable with her legend status. “Stamp Your Feet,” another album highlight, is a catchy, chant-like tune that seems to be another life-affirming moment for the diva.
Crayons is a fine album. There are a couple of missteps but overall this album is good fun and may just remind people of why Donna Summer was special in the first place.