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Donna Summer
Crayons Chris Roberts , June 23rd, 2008 00:00

Donna Summer - Crayons

Donna Summer’s first album of new material for seventeen years doesn’t so much announce that she’s still got it as knock the door down, stride in on nineteen-foot heels, strike a hands-on-hips pose and snarl, “Who’s the goddam MOMMY, bitch?” It’s so smart, sassy, energetic and full of meaty disco goodness that every time I try to review it I end up doing a unique mix of improvised aerobics and uncle-at-a-wedding moves around the room. This isn’t meant to happen, surely. Surely she’s supposed to come back with a committee-approved, industry-standard whimper, a little bit this, a little bit that, nothing in particular? That’s the way it works, right? Crayons has at least half a dozen stormers that are up there with her genre-defining greats. They boast a modern consciousness, but in a good way, an assimilated way.

Best of all, it doesn’t fall into the trap of crassly believing that all that was fine about Glorious Summer was the beats: ’I Feel Love’, ’Love To Love You Baby’, etc. It knows that her voice can carry a yearning as romantic and borderline desperate as the best torch singers (think: the swooning need of ’Last Dance’, the indefinable emotional pull of ’On The Radio’). Whoever A&R-d this should be hired to resuscitate the careers of Diana Ross and Al Green, pronto.

Again, it shouldn’t work: the names behind the desk are people who’ve collaborated with Lily Allen, Natasha Bedingfield, Rihanna, Shakira. But you’ve got to hold your hands up when the uncool rebirth the cool: even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. The seven-minute lead single here, ’I’m A Fire’, is an irresistible, pulsating beast, with a bass line as stoically dated yet evergreen as a bearded Al Pacino playing an ambivalent cop in a black leather coat. Donna, of course, makes absolutely sure by singing the living beJesus out of it.

Elsewhere, the rhythms and general buzz will have you double-checking this isn’t a Neptunes/Timbaland project. Opener ’Stamp Your Feet’ roars in with a chant, big drums and handclaps, an introductory “Woah ah oh yeah yeah yeah” that only she could make sound so inventive and personal. “I’ve been round this way so many times before”, it begins. “Broke my back, been split open sore”. Testify, sister! It’d be a sorry sport who failed to punch the air when she gets onto, “What breaks the weak just makes you strong/ You got game? Bring it on, bring it on|”

’Mr. Music’, not one of the best tracks, is staccato and crisp and kicks the shit out of anything Madonna’s done in a decade. The title song is Stefani-ish pop-reggae; ’The Queen Is Back’ is as fine as its name threatens. Strutting, swaggering, a touch of 2-Pac, a touch of the hits the Ting Tings are ripping off: all that great pop should be. ’Fame (The Game)’ is bitter (she knows her subject, and she knows what her subjects want from her), indefatigable and buzzing with guitars that wouldn’t be out of place on a superior alt-rock record. Hot stuff? This is freaking incendiary. Possibly the only Summer never to let you down.