Donna Summer - Love to Love You Donna

Donna Summer
Donna Summer Love to Love You Donna.jpg

One year and a half after the untimely passing of Donna Summer, it's still hard to believe that The Queen of Disco will no longer be dazzling audiences with new anthems. Power-fueled by her dynamic pipes, "Hot Stuff," "Bad Girls," and "She Works Hard for the Money" have roused club-goers and radio-heads alike over the course of four decades. So much of her eighteen-album legacy (with even more international, genre-crossing hits) is comprised of timeless material that she is bound to garner new fans as the years go by. With Love to Love You Donna, however, Verve Records is hoping to more quickly expand her fan base via a thirteen-track collection of signature Summer recordings re-imagined and reconstructed in a variety of contemporary dance styles.

One year and a half after the untimely passing of Donna Summer, it's still hard to believe that The Queen of Disco will no longer be dazzling audiences with new anthems. Power-fueled by her dynamic pipes, "Hot Stuff," "Bad Girls," and "She Works Hard for the Money" have roused club-goers and radio-heads alike over the course of four decades. So much of her eighteen-album legacy (with even more international, genre-crossing hits) is comprised of timeless material that she is bound to garner new fans as the years go by. With Love to Love You Donna, however, Verve Records is hoping to more quickly expand her fan base via a thirteen-track collection of signature Summer recordings re-imagined and reconstructed in a variety of contemporary dance styles.

Using some of Summer's biggest hits as the foundation, no less than 12 remixers have a go at classics like "Dim All the Lights," "I Feel Love," and "MacArthur Park" in styles including techno, electro, and house. Aside from several noteworthy exceptions, though, Love to Love You Donna ultimately does more damage than good to the vocalist's stellar catalog. There were reportedly problems locating many of her vocal masters, which would explain why several of the remixes here contain merely one or two lines from the original songs. But the absence of lyrics is just one of many weaknesses to be found on the set. Rather than embrace the melodic variety and full chordal structures which made the songs so special, many of the new interpretations resort to musically barren arrangements that drift aimlessly over redundant beat programming.

While Jacques Greene transforms the celebratory "On the Radio" into a dark conglomeration of keyboard layers that consistently clash with the progression of the verses and chorus, Duke Dumont serves up a lifeless sequence of loops on a minimalist adaptation of "Dim All the Lights." In another mishap, Holy Ghost enlists the services of a generic vocalist to sing those lines of "Working the Midnight Shift" which could not be located in the vaults. Since Hot Chip's Dub version of "Sunset People" contains a bit more of Summer's voice, its dragging, quasi-ambient stance is slightly more forgivable.

There are a few instances in which the men at the boards show respect for the legendary tunes they've been given the opportunity to add their touch to. Chromeo & Oliver retain distinguishing instrumental aspects of "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)" while infusing it with fresh synth work and a catching beat. The much-revered Masters at Work, in the process of adding a swinging new groove and bass line to "Last Dance," wisely keep some of the horn and string work that made it so magical when Summer first recorded it under the guidance of producers Giorgio Moroder and Bob Esty.

If there's one reason to buy Love to Love You Donna, however, it's the previously unreleased "La Dolce Vita," a mellow but joyful number that Summer began recording in 2009, according to a recent interview given by her widow, Bruce Sudano. Moroder, who helmed so many of her essential records, builds an airy atmosphere of retro goodness and modern technology here that soundly complements her earthy tones and rich phrasing. The only weak point of this unearthed treasure, in fact, is its brevity. It clocks in at just over four minutes, compared to the six-minutes-plus timings of most of the remixes. 

Overall, Love to Love You Donna is disappointing in its failure to preserve the integrity of the very subject it purports to be glorifying. Longtime fans will likely find the palpable disregard for the musical qualities which made Summer's recordings one-of-a-kind to be off-putting, while younger listeners can't possibly get a well-rounded picture of her impressive gifts from the frequently limited soundscapes. But with a few saving graces—especially "La Dolce Vita"—Verve has at least made a small contribution to continuing the Queen's legacy. Cautiously recommended.

by Justin Kantor

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