VH1 Presents Live And More Encore!
Epic Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/22/1999
Well over ten years past her commercial prime, one could rightfully ask, "Why should we care about Donna Summer today?"
Well, why not? Hell, if Cher can have career comeback number twelve, why can't Summer try to regain a place in the spotlight? There still is great interest in the music from Summer's time (though I am one of those people who firmly believe that disco music, in general, sucked then, sucks now, and shall forever suck.)
But Summer's latest disc, VH1 Presents Live And More Encore! (featuring music taken from her recent special for the cable channel) dares to suggest two things. First, Summer is more of a dance artist than the disco queen she was made out to be thanks to "Love To Love You Baby". (Incidentally, don't look for that song anywhere on this disc; since turning back to religion 20 years ago, Summer refuses to ever perform that song again.) Second, Summer could have been one hell of an adult-contemporary artist.
Admittedly, I didn't find myself getting worked up about this disc at the start, especially when things kicked off with her rendition of "Macarthur Park" - undoubtedly one of the dumbest songs ever written. (Sample lyric: "Someone left a cake out in the rain / And I don't think that I can take it / 'Cause it took so long to bake it / And I'll never have that recipe again." Give me a friggin' break, Jimmy Webb!)
Only when Summer gets around to her hit "On The Radio" do things really start to look up for her - and a duet with Tina Arena on "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" helps to really kick things into overdrive. Arena more than adequately fills Barbra Streisand's shoes for this song, no disrespect meant towards Streisand. Lively renditions of hits like "Bad Girls," "She Works Hard For The Money" and "Last Dance" all help to seal the deal.
But where Summer really impressed me on VH1 Presents Live And More Encore! was on her Rod Stewart-like rendition of "Dim All The Lights" - performed the way she originally wrote it first (when she planned on giving it to Stewart to perform), then kicked up into dance mode (the version she rode to chart success). Surprisingly, Summer does an excellent job with the adult-contemporary version, making me wonder why she didn't pursue this line of her career once disco was finally deep-sixed.
As far as the live show goes, Summer knows she is surrounded by friends, and she sings with that confidence as if only two years had passed since her major success, not two decades. Summer sounds like she has the confidence to give the market another run for its money, and for what it's worth, it seems like the market is ready for her.
But wait, not so fast. Thrown on to the end of this disc for good measure are two newly-recorded songs, "Love Is The Healer" and "I Will Go With You (Con Te Partiro)" - and neither really add anything special to the mix. Of course, if you're a fan of Summer's music, you'll still be riding an emotional high from the live show when these two cuts kick in. Sorry, Donna, but these two songs just don't sound fresh enough to spell major comeback in my book.
But if anything convinces me that Summer has the moxie and the power to attempt a career rebuild, then the live portion of VH1 Presents Live And More Encore! has me standing on my chair applauding for the most part. The disc unearths some pleasant memories (as well as a skeleton or two) and shows that Summer and her music are still worth your attention even today.