Review: “The Wanderer” by Donna Summer (Vinyl, 1980)

Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate uncertain is the 1980 album The Wanderer by the undisputed American Queen Of Disco, the late Donna Summer. Will this album be like a walk in the park, or should you just keep on walking. Read on…

Donna Summer - The Wanderer (1980) album
Donna Summer – The Wanderer (1980) album

This album, which is produced by disco legend Giorgio Moroder, and includes writing credits from Harold Faltermeyer, opens with the titular track and lead single The Wanderer. This track gives Donna a more rockabilly sound, and may come as a surprise to some. Imagine Shakin’ Stevens in a higher register. A simple plodding bass and synth wander throughout, and Donna meets them in the more restrained lower register. Her voice is wasted here, and she sounds bored.

Next is Looking Up, which aptly is looking up, and Donna tries to reassure us with “I’m comin’ back to life”, and fresh departure from her previous label is evident in these lyrics “I’m looking up. I see my troubles far behind”. The track certainly has a much welcome uplifting mood, and her disco fans will not be disappointed with this. It fleetingly reminds me of Giving Up, Giving In by The Three Degrees, which the backing singers repeat many times. This track is a bit of a belter, and should have been the lead single to help fans bridge the gap.

That is followed by Breakdown, which despite the sullen title, isn’t as miserable as you might expect. It’s not quite as lovely as the previous song, but it’s a song that pitches Donna’s softer vocals against a nice synth. The track builds up for the chorus, and again nods to her disco pedigree.

Grand Illusion is next opening with some really nice distorted drums and synths. Some slightly distant and abstract vocals from Donna come wafting in, as if Goldfrapp have arrived 20yrs too early.

Side One closes with Running For Cover, which is a rock song with some great guitars and harder drums, the former getting an impressive solo towards the end. The track injects some more energy into this first half of the album.

Side Two opens with second single Cold Love, which arrives with a simple snare beat and electric guitar, giving it a clear rock sound. Donna gets some big wide vocals to sing here, and she sounds great. Again there’s a lovely guitar solo in the middle, which seems to fuel Donna’s vocals even more. Great stuff.

Who Do You Think You’re Fooling is next, and I’m reminded a little bit of ABBA in the intro. It’s a rock pop song that uses a catchy little piano sequence. Donna’s vocals sit perfectly on top, and it’s easy to mentally swap her for Agnetha or Frida. It’s catchy, but when released as the album’s final single, it was relatively ignored.

That’s followed by Nightlife, and this arrives with chugging electric guitars. It’s a disco-rock song, and it’s piano and bass line is catchy, and Donna delivers the lyrics with great ease, even the big moments at the end of each verse. It’s a catchy song, which again could have worked well as a single, perhaps a little reminiscent in melody of earlier hit Hot Stuff.

Stop Me is next and it’s another more rock sounding track, with echoes of Blondie lurking, with Donna occasionally singing as if she’s being spiteful. That’s aside from the saxophone/handclap sequences, which by contrast are very cheerful. It has a nice tempo though, and that alone makes it quite a catchy track by the time you’re heading to the next song.

The album closes with ballad I Believe In Jesus. Donna gets to show off her vocal power and range in this gospel mid-tempo track. It’s nice enough, and gently leads us to the end.

Donna Summer’s lead single ‘The Wanderer’ from 1980.

Verdict

Whilst Giorgio Moroder may have been on co-producer duties, the album is not quite what you’d expect him to create. Reading up on more recent information, you learn that this album was released quickly after Donna shifted from one record label to another. It feels somewhat hurried despite Donna earning plenty of lyric writer credits.

Donna may be synonymous with disco, and titled the Queen Of Disco, but this album does not deliver that sound. Instead, it gives Donna a harder rockier set of songs to show off her vocal power. Sadly, she often sounds like she’s holding back, or wasted on a weaker track. Lead single and title track The Wanderer could have been harder – instead she sounds almost timid.

Who Do You Think You’re Foolin’ and Looking Up are by far the high points here, with Grand Illusion and The Wanderer being the lows.

Rated 3 stars! It's a nice album.
  • POP RESCUE 2021 RATING: 3 / 5
  • 1980 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #55
  • POP RESCUE COST: £4.00 from a Discogs.com seller.

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