Canadian pop powerhouse Celine Dion has ‘still got it’ - Years ago, the name Celine Dion carried incredible weight. For comparison, it’s kinda like in basketball when analysts call a player ‘automatic’; Dion used to be an automatic commercial juggernaut, period. Instead of shooting free throws, all she did was sell albums – lots and lots of albums. The key point is that she ‘used to’. Like some many of the ‘veterans’ who have past their musical career primes, Celine Dion’s ‘relevance’ in the new pop worlds is very minimal compared to her heyday. After an incredible seven-year absence following her last English effort , 2007’s Taking Chances, the Canadian pop singer returns with Loved Me Back to Life. While Love Me Back To Life lacks the anticipation and bombast of previous Dion albums, one thing it doesn’t lack is those powerhouse, prodigious pipes.
The first time I listened to title track “Love Me Back to Life”, I thought it was a bit ‘clunky’, though filled will energy. After a second listen, I truly fell in love with it. Dion showcases off her gifts, sounding still pure and as powerful as ever. The cut straddles pop and R&B stylistically, appealing to the ‘best of the both worlds’. While the slickly produced cut does sport syncopated, gargantuan, hip-hop sensible drums, it certainly doesn’t compromise nor truly makeover Dion artistically. “Somebody Loves Me” follows elegantly, sounding like an oxymoron of sorts. While the production is refined, Dion isn’t afraid to go full-throated superstar, particularly during the choruses and the bridge. Vocally, Dion makes the lyrics meaningful, particularly lines like “If you wanna fight, bite your tongue / before you explode / but don’t let this get out of control / you don’t want me to leave you alone…” (verse one). Not as profound as the title track perhaps, “Somebody Loves Me” is still worthy of ‘the love’.
“Incredible” is more profound, finding Dion blending fantastically with duet partner/songwriter Ne-Yo. Optimistic, uplifting, and bright, the duet reminds us of a simpler time in music, where vulgarities and overt sexuality weren’t king. The chorus simply states “…Incredible / incredible / let’s make them remember / we were remember / simply incredible.” The feel good track is just that, incredible. It’s follow-up “Water and A Flame”, a relatively obscure Daniel Merriweather cover originally serving as a duet between Merriweather and Adele, is easily the set’s best non-original. As extraordinarily beautiful as the original duet version is, Celine Dion makes her interpretation equally alluring. The top-notch recreated production doesn’t hurt Dion’s cause either, only serving as further inspiration for a nuanced vocal performance. Dion sounds incredibly comfortable within the retro-soul setting. Among her best moments? Those signature soaring vocals during the chorus.
“Breakaway” continues to find Dion flexing those vocal muscles, even if it doesn’t reach the same high watermark of the previous duo. “Save Your Soul” comes close if it doesn’t match the aforementioned intensity, crossing somewhere between contemporary pop and contemporary R&B. The funky edge about “Save Your Soul” makes it a worthwhile listen, as does compelling lyrics such as “How could I, keep believing every word you’re sayin’ / wrapped up in every kiss you’ve poisoned / I could swear I never saw the sin…” Dion follows one standout with another on “Didn’t Know Love”, which certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel in regards to its theme, but makes love once more excellent inspiration for a song. “It’s a blessing, it’s a curse,” Dion sings on the second verse. “You know you’ve found it when it hurts.” As impressive as Dion’s grit and resolve is throughout Loved Me Back to Life, it is also welcome to hear the diva’s restraint, which occurs here before she gains that ‘second wind’ you might say.
“Thank You” sounds very much like a Shaffer Smith (Ne-Yo) composition. It suits Celine, though it’s not among my top five cuts. “Thank You” is at its best when it finally percolates towards the end. “Overjoyed” pairs Celine Dion with Stevie Wonder, fittingly since “Overjoyed” is one of the soul artists many classics. The recreated production is incredibly lush and thoughtfully conceived, highlighting the unique cues of the original. While the duet and cover are enjoyable, it doesn’t quite achieve the same lofty level as “Water and a Flame.” After saying “thank you”, Dion is “Thankful” on track ten. “But I’m thankful to be here / thankful to feel clear / thankful my prayers have been answered…,” Dion sings on the chorus. Judging by the lyrics, “Thankful” is nothing innovative, but the emotion and relatable nature of the cut is in full effect. That emotion is fully realized by the end with the emergence of the gospel choir – I’d been waiting for the choir the entire album personally.
The final three cuts don’t shine like the best, but continue to find Dion in superb voice. “At Seventeen” is another cover (Janis Ian), but comes off a bit of bore, particularly comparative to other covers. “Always Be Your Girl” has the pieces in place, notably a key modulation, but is a bit predictable ultimately. “Unfinished Songs”, written by Diane Warren, closes the effort with surprising energy (and quick tempo), but doesn’t match the ‘goods’ of say the title track. Win some, lose some.
How does Love Me Back To Life stack up? For the most part, extremely well. Through and through, this is an enjoyable album and certainly one where Dion can hang her head up high without reservation. As far as artistry, Celine Dion is still ‘on her game’ and her voice sounds like she’s taken good care of it. Whether or not Love Me Back to Life is big enough to be career comeback or whether or not ‘Celine Dion’ can be a household name once more, I’d say that that ship has sailed. Fans should enjoy it though, and perhaps that’s what matters the most at this point in the 45-year old’s career.
“Loved Me Back To Life”; “Incredible”; “Water and a Flame”; “Save Your Soul”; “Didn’t Know Love”
Celine Dion | Loved Me Back To Life | Columbia | US Release Date: November 5, 2013