Celine Dion churns out all the expected schmaltz on her new “Loved Me Back to Life,” plus a little bit more. And that “more” is enough to give pause to those who would normally reject her out of hand.
Dion’s pipes have always been amazing, it’s what she’s done with them that has been suspect. The bellowing, the tics, the absurdly banal lyrics.
Yet on “Loved Me Back to Life,” the French Canadian’s first English-language album in six years, she’s got a little grit in the grinder. There’s an occasional scratch in her tone that hints at earthy soul. Imperfections that shatter the vacuum-sealed sterility that traditionally suffocates Dion’s songs.
Celine Dion performs "Loved Me Back to Life"
She toys with her lower range in the brooding take on Daniel Merriweather’s “Water and a Flame” (“Now that it’s over, there’s nothing else that I want/What have I done?”). She sounds almost shockingly fragile, her voice even cracking, as she embodies mature vulnerability on the moderately sedate “Didn’t Know Love” (“This is more beautiful and frightening than I’ve ever known.”) Even her hopelessly-in-love duet with Ne-Yo (yes, Ne-Yo), “Incredible,” and her boldly romantic title track sound fresh for a woman who represented the prototype of 1990s adult-contemporary music.
Meanwhile, she submits two effective cuts about gratitude, the sweet and gentle sweet “Thank You” and a “Thankful” that sails off on a beguiling Sarah McLachlan-esque tangent.
Her flirtation with something akin to R&B and soul makes the rest of “Loved Me Back to Life” more digestible, even when she incredulously declares, “Some people live their lives never believing in love!” on the contrived “Somebody Loves Somebody” and when she and Stevie Wonder team up for the paint-by-numbers duet “Overjoyed.”
As the release plays out, Dion retreats more heavily into her old, rote ways. And her bossa nova spin on Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” is completely devoid of the pain the song demands.
Still, she gave it a shot.
It’s too soon to declare Dion a bold experimentalist, but the fact she takes any risks at all is worth a tip of the hat.
Rating: 3 stars (out of five)
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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