And here it is: Donna Summer's seventh album in four years, "Bad Girls" (Casablanca) appears this week, a bountiful offering of fifteen A-side tracks (including four ballads) that's yet another step forward in a career already full of landmarks and triumphs. In this case, Summer and producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte don't drop a particular stylistic bombshell (as they had in each of Summer's first four albums): rather, they're catching the trend toward harder, rock and r&b oriented music on its upswing. In doing so they have drawn several crucial trump cards that establish "Bad Girls" as an immediate standard setter, both in terms of music and marketing.
Nine composers (including arranger Harold Faltermeyer, Brooklyn Dreams and drummer Keith Forsey) collaborated with Summer in the album's writing, and this spread of talent results in an extremely high standard of songwriting. Each cut is radio-playable, without exception, having a strong individual hook and a very manageable time-span. The segueing of these cuts in pairs provides for club play length. Shrewdly formatted, it's this device that gives "Bad Girls" a certain ambivalence of themes. In the absence of plot line and writing team that unified Summer's other double, "Once Upon A Time," "Bad Girls" offers a varied group of love songs that expresses the gamut from idealism to anguish and expectancy to disillusionment in apparently random order. That such opposites often find themselves in the same two-song medley is the only lapse in content.
In an album of high point, the pace is set by the current single, "Hot Stuff" (5:13), in medley with the title track. A brand new persona emerges, Summer as streetwalker, singing with a savagery and toughness that we've only heard hints of. "Bad Girls" (4:57) carries the same semi-rock rhythm and a chant hook, "beep-beep, toot-toot" that allows lots of deejay flexibility at the coda and which will surely fill the space that "say whaat?" occupied recently in our collective consciousness. Summer exercises herself admirably with every change in mood and message, playing, for example, with the teenage tone at the top of her voice for "Love Will Always Find You" (4:01) and following it with her rich full-chest voice on "walk Away" (4:17). The discontinuity of theme in this segment is, as elsewhere, rendered nearly irrelevant by the unfailing hooks and sturdy instrumentation, anchored by Forsey's drums and Faltermeyer's multiple keyboard tracks.
All the strings are gone, pushed out of the grooves, one might imagine, by the boldly scored horn and choral sections and by excellent, imaginative synthesizer arrangements. And at the center is Summer's performance: she sings to the very limits of her voice, and, incredibly, she's become even more the embodiment of versatility and heart we've come to know.
Still we're reminded of the possibilities of a more sustained mood by the exhilaration of "Dim All The Lights" (4:40) and "Journey To The Centre Of Your Heart" (4:37), both soul-style songs that build momentum and joy in their mutual reinforcement and provide the album's emotional peak (compare the combines rush of "Rumour Has It" and "I Love You"). Rounding out three sides of equally viable disco cuts: "One Night In A Lifetime" (4:23) and "Can't Get To Sleep At Night" (4:45), both with a semi-Latin bounce that makes the beautifully integrates synthesizer tracks seem more human than ever; also, a side of synthesizer based songs, the newest descendents of "I Feel Love," in which Summer successively sings straight through the arrangements on vocal power ("Our Love"); reprises her cooing keening sex-kitten voice ("Lucky") and co-opts the form entirely to present a fisheyed view of Los Angeles, where the album was recorded ("Sunset People").