Celine Dion’s ‘Loved Me Back To Life’: Album Review

Mike Wass | November 5, 2013 5:45 am

Adult contemporary is the Bermuda triangle of music genres. Once you enter its seemingly serene waters, you’re never heard from again – at least on pop radio, the all-important key to chart glory. It wasn’t always like that. Celine Dion spent most of her career making soaring ballads and gentle mid-tempo jams and radio happily played along. She eventually fell out of favor with programmers at the turn of the millennium, presumably because her sound was considered outdated, and has been trying to remedy the situation ever since.

Much of the buzz surrounding Loved Me Back To Life, the big-lunged diva’s 11th English language studio album, has centered on the eclectic producers and songwriters. In truth, Celine has been tweaking her sound for years. On 2007’s underrated and appropriately titled Taking Chances, for example, she worked with The-Dream, Linda Perry and Tricky Stewart. While the LP has many highlights, it is uneven and felt like a slightly unnatural fit. Dion doggedly tries again this time around with considerably better results.

The first eight songs of Loved Me Back To Life finds a creatively recharged Celine. The songs are current, classy and still plays to her strengths — namely, having one of the best voices on the planet. Unlike Taking Chances, the new line-up of producers understand that the formula isn’t broken – it just needs a little facelift. Unfortunately, the highest selling female artist of all time loses her nerve and veers back to her adult contemporary roots towards the ends.

Produced by Sham & Motesart (urban producers perhaps best known for their work with Melanie Fiona) and co-penned by omnipresent writer-for-hire Sia, “Loved Me Back To Life” is the most radical departure from the diva’s trademark sound on the album – making it simultaneously a fitting introduction to Celine 11.0 but also a curious lead single. It’s a song that evolves after multiple listens with hooks and subtle production flourishes that take time to emerge.

A better choice for lead single would have been Emmanuel Kiriakou-produced Ne-Yo duet “Incredible”. If there’s one song on the album with a strong enough pop hook to connect with the iTunes generation it’s this catchy, hook-filled gem. Celine’s delicate vocal is the perfect foil for Ne-Yo’s soulful delivery and the chorus is soppy in the best possible way. All she needs is an X Factor performance and this one could stick.

Another highlight is the pop icon’s cover of Daniel Merriweather’s “Water And A Flame”, which was going to double as the album title until the Australian singer messed it up by accusing the songstress of stealing his song. It’s an inspired choice, taking Celine down an entirely different path. It’s very Adele – all smoky vocals and retro soul production complete with gorgeous strings. This is a great sound for the diva and she should consider revisiting it on future endeavors.

Swedish trio Play Production (Tim Larsson, Johan Fransson and Tobias Lundgren) deliver two of the LP’s other gems. “Breakaway” finds the Canadian in lite-rock mode. The unusually dark and anguished tune allows the diva to showcase the full extent of her vocal prowess – tearing into the chorus with a vengeance. Anyone who accuses Celine of singing without emotion should listen to this and take a seat. It’s such a good sound for her and does feel like a natural fit.

“Somebody Loves Somebody” is another angry song but it’s less aggressive and ultimately sounds like a throwback to her endearing mid-tempo ‘90s pop songs – albeit it with curious bleeps and beeps and an amazingly odd vocal breakdown. It’s weird, wonderful and completely addictive. Rising songwriter/producer Danny Mercer takes Celine down a quirky Nelly Furtado-trodden path on “Save Your Soul”. It takes a couple of listens but unfolds beautifully with its blend of beats and piano.

“Didn’t Know Love” is fairly standard Dion fare but still manages to sound fresh with its minimal Eg White production and jazzy chorus. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Also well worth checking out is mid-album highlight “Thank You”. Co-written and produced by duet partner Ne-Yo, it’s a shimmery synth ballad with a big, beautiful pop chorus. The song is an instant shot of serotonin with its grateful lyrics and hazy production. This is how you tweak Celine’s big ballad formula and deliver something fresh but still meaningful.

The rest of Loved Me Back To Life is thoroughly enjoyable but retreats into adult contemporary blandness. “Thankful”, a stillborn piano ballad, is a complete snooze. The same goes for the mega-selling diva’s unnecessary cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed”. It’s always good to hear the R&B legend in action but it drags the album back into the Mother’s Day territory the Canadian was trying to escape and there’s no improving the 1985 original.

Interestingly, the Grammy winner gets it just right on her cover of Janis Ian’s self-pitying and usually annoying single girl anthem “At Seventeen”. It gets an odd elevator muzak makeover that strangely works because it’s so unbelievably uncool, it’s positively edgy. It’s also an interesting choice for the balladeer. Celine might have been “an ugly girl” at 17 but she’s a fairly stunning 45 year old. So she wins.

The pop icon rounds out the LP with long-term collaborator Walter Afanasieff on pretty piano ballad “Always Be Your Girl” and Diane Warren’s amiable “Unfinished Songs”. Both are perfectly fine but sound out of place on an album that tries to subtly change the public’s perception of Dion. It’s a shame she couldn’t commit to the change because this was so close to be a creative high-water mark for her. As is, Celine delivers an uneven but hugely enjoyable adult pop album.

The Best Song That Wasn’t The Single: “Incredible” needs to be sent to pop and urban radio now. With a couple of high-profile performances, this could be big. “Breakaway” and “Thank You” are the other obvious single choices.

Full Disclosure: Celine could release an album of LMFAO covers and I’d still love it. Her voice is that good.

Idolator Score: 3.5/5

Mike Wass