Donna Summer's Crayons

The (other) queen is back, multi-octave bazooka and all

Donna Summer is special. You are not Donna Summer. All them other divas who flirted with paganism before discovering Jesus are just pretenders: Donna doesn’t even need to mention them by name. As the chant of ever-circling overdubbed Donnas surrounds you on the self-explanatory “The Queen Is Back,” one of the more memorable tracks on her first album since the first Bush administration, you feel sorry for Mary J. Blige and the other narcissistic infidels who continued Lady Summer’s practice of conceiving albums as installments in the life of someone better than us.

And she was. Blessed by the company she kept—including Harold Faltermeyer, Springsteen, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Stock-Aiken-Waterman, and someone named Giorgio Moroder—she essayed every popular genre of the day, her only discernible motif being that multi-octave bazooka of a voice whose buoyancy signified her sheer joy at being a star, singing these songs, and working with these people (the undimmed power of Summer’s voice scrubs lines like “The more you reject me/The more I want from you” of celebrity vampirism). We don’t identify with the famous—they bring us to them, inviting us to share their magnificence as we sit in our rooms gawking at the cover of Live and More. On Crayons, it’s like no time has passed at all, and of course it hasn’t: As Lloyd Richards says to Margo Channing in All About Eve, the stars never die and never change.

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Fans who might balk at the T-Pain chirp in “Science of Love” or the ghetto demotic of “Stamp Your Feet” (“make a big-ass sound,” “you got game”) forget what an avid chart-follower she was back in the day. Summer’s enthusiasm for the big-ass arena-rock dynamics of “Stamp Your Feet” is thrilling to hear in a fiftysomething. Also hear the commitment: Tina Turner’s professionalism looks cynical in comparison. As if to remind us that her weird streak remains intact, Summer attempts the faux Tropicália of “Drivin’ Down Brazil” or the updated blues (complete with slide guitar and harmonica!) of “Slide Over Backwards,” the latter an attempt at Summer’s own “Nutbush City Limits” or something. Once Upon a Time and Bad Girls fans will both agree that Crayons’ second half is a victory lap with no Summer in sight—she’s already past us. She still rides paradoxes as adeptly as she rode Moroder’s sequencers; she’s human because she believes in staying superhuman.

Donna Summer plays the PNC Bank Arts Center June 18 and the Nikon at Jones Beach theater July 19, livenation.com

 
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