Today’s POP RESCUE is the 1984 album Cats Without Claws by disco legend Donna Summer, but is this album purr-fection, or is it more like kitty litter? Read on…
This 10 track LP opens with opens with the dramatic 80s synths and drums of second single Supernatural Love which is laden with bleeping synths as Donna’s vocals effortlessly deliver this pop song. A roaring 80s electric guitar gets a solo in the middle, but we’re soon back to the bouncy pop of the chorus which even includes an almost robotic vocal line. Quite a nice intro, if my LP didn’t have a whopping great scratch on it (maybe that’s a gimmick given the album title!). This single didn’t chart in the UK.
The tempo picks up for It’s Not The Way. Which again is loaded with synths, and electric guitar, and sounds like it belongs on the Pointer Sisters hit album Break Out from 1983. This song is a bit more catchy than the previous song, and feels far more chart friendly.
Next up is There Goes My Baby, which initially gives us a fairly textbook American ballad, before a delicious synth and best comes in to join Donna’s vocals. Yes it sounds very 80s, but it works perfectly. At times this song sounds familiar, as if it’s a cover of an old 60s song – and it kind of is – a cover of the 1959 single by The Drifters. The appearance of 80s Obligatory Saxophone ushers in a wonderful cheap (but sadly brief) Casio keyboard demo beat, ensuring it gets a full 80s treatment. Meanwhile, undeterred by the synths, Donna shows off her heartfelt vocals perfectly. Despite it being the lead single, it bombed in the UK, scraping into the Top 100 at #99.
Suzanna follows this with a simple synth and beat sequence, followed by Donna getting some big, high notes. At times she sounds a bit like Gloria Estefan here, rather than a disco legend.
Brooding synths growl and gurgle mysteriously as title track Cats Without Claws opens. Donna gives a breathy spoken intro about the ‘cats’. The vocals and harmonies in the chorus are really nice, as a simple bass and beat leads us through. The breathy vocals return for each verse as a menacing synth chord sequence plays underneath. Murky.
Side Two opens with Oh Billy Please gently fades in with a synth sequence that would have done a contemporary Doctor Who episode proud. This is a mid-tempo track, and after the introduction, the emphasis is on guitar, beats, and Donna’s big vocals – a style we’ve not really heard yet on this album. There’s a nice mid-section with a load of cowbells and bass.
Up next is third and final single Eyes, which is rockier than some of the earlier songs here, with a great chugging bass and occasional roaring electric guitar as Donna sings deeper in the verses. Her vocals lift for the chorus, but the over all tone is menacing, which fits in perfectly with the ‘there’s always someone watching us‘ lyrics. The single reached #97 in the UK chart. Oops.
Maybe It’s Over follows this, and it gives 80’s Obligatory Saxophone another chance to shine, as Donna gets lots of needy-sounding echoey vocals over a simple pop stadium beat. Not the most inspiring track here which just fades out in a wail-off between Donna and Sax.
This is followed by I’m Free, which sounds far more up-beat. Donna’s vocals are high here over a highly percussive beat. The end result is an almost party sounded 80’s track with some wonderful robotic sounding vocals sections.
The album closes with Forgive Me, a gospel song that opens with some gently tinkling piano and strings, and gives us a powerful vocal-focused ballad that could have easily have been amongst the ranks of Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey rather than Donna Summer. It’s a nice warm ballad that shows just how amazing Donna’s voice could be when the opportunity came her way. It earned her a Grammy.
Where is Donna Summer now?
This album holds the record as the worst performing (yet UK charting) Donna Summer album of her career – stalling at #69.
Despite a handful of further singles, it wasn’t until 1989 that Donna Summer regained her previous success in the UK, courtesy of her collaboration with hit-making geniuses Stock/Aitken/Waterman, giving her the greatest comeback with #3 hit This Time I Know It’s For Real, and her 1989 album Another Place And Time.
Donna died of lung cancer in 2012 aged 63.
POP RESCUE RATING:
Over all, there’s no I Feel Love here as per her previous album, instead it’s a synth heavy nice pop album. I’m Free, It’s Not The Way, and Oh Billy Please stand out here, whilst Maybe It’s Over is the only reason to skip a track.
Sadly poor choices for singles (including a rejection by her label not to release her suggestion of Oh Billy Please instead of Supernatural Love) cost her the UK attention she deserved.
This is a great example of electronic music exploring genres and its relationship with pop-rock sounds. Definitely worth a listen.
- POP RESCUE 2016 RATING: 3 / 5
- 1984 UK CHART PEAK: #69
- POP RESCUE COST: £6.00 from a Discogs.com seller.