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Customer Review

on 2 July 2009
This is essentially a Quincy Jones album with Donna Summer as vocalist. It was recorded the same year as Michael Jackson's 'Thriller', also produced by Q, and shares musical themes, writers, players & recording engineer (the great Bruce Swedien).

'Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)' is such a great groove, with Ndugu Chancler playing a drum track that's suspicously similar to 'PYT' with classic vocoder & wonderfully high-lying vocals on the chorus.

'Mystery Of Love' is a disco ballad that begins with Bach's prelude in C minor from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier played on a Synclavier! The song then becomes similar in groove to 'Ya Mo Be There' (also produced by Q) and as if to underline that, James Ingram shares the lead vocal (same tempo as well).

'The Woman In Me' is really a rather good ballad and has the first appearance of the Linn LM-1 drum machine on the record, used so well on the 'Thriller' album. (Quincy Jones greatly admired Prince's '1999' & wanted the song 'Thriller' to have similarly big synthesiser chords, so perhaps '1999' also inspired the use of the LM-1.)

'State Of Independence' is truly one of the great pop records & the production is brilliant. The arrangement is so good - great Linn LM-1 chugging all the way through, and a choir made up of singers including Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie. The original by Jon Anderson & Vangelis was only released a year before this and is so sloppy by comparison. That said, Donna Summer doesn't contribute anything special - it could have been anyone singing - it's the production which is so startlingly good.

Sadly the production values are not consistent across the album & some songs are clearly hastily assembled & sound like they would have benefitted from more work. 'Livin In America' is an example of this: it has a great pared-down groove, but the arrangement never really takes off and there is some out of time playing, made obvious by the metronomic Linn pattern. The section with marching drums & childrens' choir should be big, but sounds silly and is intolerable on repeated listening, Donna barking out jingoistic nonsense like a school teacher.

'Protection' is just embarassing - clearly Q wished to repeat the rock crossover success of 'Beat It' by inviting Bruce Springsteen to write & perform on it, but it sounds like a rock-disco version of the theme from Rawhide!

'(If It) Hurts Just A Little' is another 'Ya Mo Be There' sound-alike song, and comes over as hasty album filler.

'Love Is Just A Breath Away' is a bit better, but with another ponderous Linn pattern (odd how the Linn can sound so great on one song, and like...well a drum machine, on another).

The version of the Billy Strayhorn number 'Lush Life' is just bizzarre and completely out of place.

What is striking throughout this album is that Donna Summer sounds strained & uneasy most of the time and certainly sings nothing special or memorable. The overall effect of the album is that of Quincy Jones trying to make the best album he could with a singer with whom he had no empathy, in what was almost certainly a hurry, and at a time when he was massively in demand.

The album hasn't been available on CD for many years and is outrageously expensive when you can find a copy, but worth it for 'State Of Independence'.
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Product Details

3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars