Donna Summer: ‘Another Place and Time’ 2CD reviewed

❉ Rob Morris on a new release of Donna Summer’s acclaimed 1989 S/A/W collab.

“‘Another Place and Time is a great album: it showcases both Donna and the Stock/Aitken/Waterman team at the peak of their powers. There’s barely a foot wrong in the vocals, songwriting or production, and the remixes of the time are stunning.”

Donna Summer’s 1989 album Another Place and Time is an album rightly considered to be one of her best. A collaboration with Stock/Aitken/Waterman, it’s revered by both fans of Donna and of the production trio themselves. It’s also notable that each of the singles after the album’s release were significantly remixed to differentiate them from their album versions, with noticeably fresh and different arrangements. Only the classic lead single This Time I Know it’s for Real didn’t get this treatment – although the extended mix is one of the most popular 12”ers ever mixed in the Borough studios, perfectly showcasing the layered arrangements and complexities of Stock and Aitken’s work.

In fact, both the originals and the single remixes, plus the remaining album tracks are pure gold. It’s long been one of my favourite albums and – much to my partner’s annoyance – is rarely not given a spin in this household. Summer herself even gets writing credits on the first songs written for the album, before deciding she trusted S/A/W enough to head back home and let the guys get on with writing the rest. Only two disagreements occurred when she returned. First, she felt that the euro-banger I Don’t Wanna Get Hurt was too young a lyric for her, but her daughter loved it so much that she agreed to a more modern club-style mix being released as the second single (she just refused to appear in the video).

Similarly, she had initially refused to record what became the fifth and final single Breakaway as she felt it was tempting fate. Mike Stock rewrote it to have her sing about the breakup happening to a friend and then Donna was happy to put her name to it. (It seems odd for her to have these qualms when she was still happy to sing her old hit Love’s Unkind but hey… creatives, eh?) It does mean, though, that 50% of the album was released as a single, which even by the standards of the ’80s feels unusual. But almost every other track on the disc could have qualified as a single too.

The big problem that this reviewer needs to address, however, is that Another Place and Time has now been reissued three times since Donna’s passing. The first was as part of a 2014 box set of her post-Casablanca records era albums. This nearly made a cardinal error by missing out several mixes from the vaults that PWL fans knew existed (and indeed had even heard over the PA at the Hit Factory Live concert). The outcry resulted in the masters being located and some quick corrections made to the track-listing and so all was right with the world. (Personally, I love my copy of this set as I – along with many others – get a mention on the “Special Thanks” page in the booklets for each album.)

Then, a few years later, there came a handsomely packaged 30th Anniversary edition; a hardbackbook edition with new liner notes, mega and mini-mixes and a few unheard alternative takes from the archives. Unfortunately, Driven by the Music (essentially Donna’s estate) blotted their copybook rather badly by including some new “Extended Versions” which sounded like they’d not been taken from the original masters but instead assembled by… well… someone like me after 5 minutes learning how to cut and paste using Audacity. The extended version of Whatever Your Heart Desires was particularly egregious, although if I’m generous, the album favourite If It Makes You Feel Good emerged relatively unscathed from this treatment.

So, you can imagine I was a little scared of this latest 2023 reissue. As is usual these days there are the usual vinyl remasters and picture disc versions for those interested, and a new CD reissue (curiously cut down by one disc from the 30th Anniversary release). New extended mixes appear of This Time I Know it’s for Real and When Love Takes Over You but neither really do anything different to the original extended versions. You’d expect something with the label ‘Club Takeover Mix’ to be something barn-stormingly radical but… no. It’s just not. It’s just a slight reswizzle with crisper drums. Both are largely pointless additions. This time, however, it sounds like David Bentley has been given access to the original master tapes so there are no jarring jumps, but they’re still just a bit “meh” – especially given how brilliant the original mixes are.

Thankfully, there is a saving grace. Pete Hammond, one of PWL’s famed Mixmasters, provides us with a new version of the (almost) title track In Another Place and Time, a ballad that closed the A-side of the album and was never a personal favourite of mine. Every other track I adored, but In Another Place and Time has always been one I tended to skip.

What Hammond has done is given it a beefed-up arrangement with syncopated R&B beats and what feels like a much fuller arrangement. He has told me via Facebook that it’s the same vocal take from the original, but Donna’s voice really sounds much richer in this version. If a mix like this had been on the original album it would have made the album a fully perfect 10/10 for my younger ears.

Sadly, rumours abound of other versions of the album tracks still sitting in the vaults – including a version of IAPAT that apparently sounds a bit more like Ultravox’s Vienna. Apparently, these other versions were ones Donna didn’t want released and the estate are determined to honour her wishes. The problem is that it’s difficult to square that with some of the versions they’ve commissioned for the 2019 and 2023 reissues. It’s hard to imagine her giving her permission for any of those decisions had she been alive at the time they were made.

‘Another Place and Time’ 2023 reissue (2CD)

The CD edition I’m listening to now is, to be honest, a slight affair. It’s a 7” carboard wallet, with two CDs in, but to its credit it still features the breath-taking imagery Summer conceived with Lawrence Lawry. We also get three glowing essays with Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman which are unique to this release and, with Pete Hamond’s remix, are possibly worth the price of admission alone. But it’s hard to see this edition as deluxe”, instead it’s just Yet Another” Place and Time.

Don’t get me wrong, Another Place and Time is a great album: it showcases both Donna and the Stock/Aitken/Waterman team at the peak of their powers. There’s barely a foot wrong in the vocals, songwriting or production, and the remixes of the time are stunning.

‘Another Place and Time’ 2023 reissue (Zoetrope picture disc)

Donna never worked with S/A/W on an album again. Lonnie Gordon’s Happenin’ All Over Again was allegedly written for her, but if that’s the case her loss was definitely Lonnie’s gain. Donna’s follow-up album, 1991’s Mistaken Identity was made with a different producer and has a very different style – but I will say is also a great listen. Unfortunately, the 2014 box set reissue of Mistaken Identity in particular was slightly disappointing in terms of bonus material (I certainly have a couple of remixes that didn’t make it onto the reissue which seems decidedly odd given they were on the US album and the CD singles).

So, I have to say, as brilliant as Another Place and Time is, it’s probably about time to let it rest for a while and give some love to some of Donna’s other albums instead.

❉ Donna Summer: ‘Another Place and Time’ 2023 reissue (2CD/Half-speed vinyl LP/Zoetrope picture disc) was released on 7 July 2023 via Driven By The Music.

❉ Rob Morris is a regular contributor to We Are Cult. He is also the writer of several audio dramas for Big Finish Productions and What Noise Productions, and was one of the contributors to the bestseller 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die.

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing this ! As an all time fan of Donna’s I always expected a follow up album from Donna and PWL . I think it was the biggest mistake of her career not to do it !

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