Street Sounds: Celine Dion reigns as the drama queen

The Queen of Condominium Rock returns in all her large-lunged glory on Loved Me Back to Life.

The Queen of Condominium Rock returns in all her large-lunged glory.

Celine Dion has been Vegas-bound for a long time and Loved Me Back to Life is her first album in six years.

Dion’s gawky character never disappears, however, much of it is pushed back or tweaked with sexy images and poses. She’s like the goofy girl down the street but one with a huge hidden talent.

She can sing a phone book but the phone book is boring, although this one is well produced and the producers are legion. Some say she’s one of the best singers on the planet. Big claims, but taken on its own, her voice is remarkable in its power and ability to emote.

Because Dion doesn’t write songs, the songs are there to serve her voice. She needs a big hit and she’s got one with the title song. It’s epic, overwrought and over-the-top with a super human vocal on the chorus that bends reality.

Like many of her contemporaries, Dion has taken a posse – a veritable small army of producers, musicians, songwriters and duet partners. This acquisition works on some levels. Her force-of-nature voice is worked over with a soul diva sound on Water and a Flame, Breakaway and Save Your Soul.

Dion’s dramatic tendencies around phrasing are honed into expressive performances that are compelling – stressed vowels and all.

It’s obvious that Dion has a sweet tooth for ballads and they’re always on her albums. Here, some of them get pushed into an adult contemporary zone, approaching a modern retro-chic sound (Didn’t Know Love), while others linger in schmaltzy limbo (Thank You, Overjoyed). They languish in strings and lush arrangements and even Stevie Wonder can’t move Overjoyed beyond its showroom sentimentality. But Dion’s natural flair for the dramatic swoops in to save the day on a few: the edgy Thankful and the clever cover of Janis Ian’s bittersweet bummer of a song, At Seventeen.

After that, it’s a return to the big marching choruses and empty platitudes that Dion makes sound sincere.

The album’s dramatic high points are reached when she gets simple and goes for the dark side. When she retreats back into ballad-land, it’s predictable and overdone.

It’s an unnatural experience to listen to a whole Celine Dion album – like entering a zone of syrupy perfection, too much at once can make you feel a little woozy.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews new releases for The Morning Star.