To have the glass-shattering lung power on which Celine Dion has built an empire of love songs on in the last 20-some years hardly matters anymore. Shock value, personal stories of triumph and/or tragedy and twerking — that’s how you’re supposed to sell an album these days, but Diva Dion isn’t about to rub up on Robin Thicke. So the singer calling her latest CD — also her first English-language album in six years — an “edgier” affair isn’t surprising. There’s a new generation of Adele fans still waiting to discover Celine’s still-rollicking belt. And oh, does she belt.
“Thankful,” a gospel-tinged highlight, is the kind of classic Celine song where you can practically see her doing that signature “boob bop” as she goes in for a series of runs. And there’s a choir. And that dramatic pause. But there’s also those notes that carry out the tunes that sound raspy and strained, like she’s serious about taking a trip to the dark side — not Eminem-level dark, but “Somebody Loves Somebody,” putting a no-good flame in his place, bites down with a set of teeth that Dion, always so sweet and pure, has rarely shown.
Another glorious shift that goes gritty is “Breakaway,” a remarkable, spine-tingling showcase of the diva’s voice. Sounding smooth as silk, Celine reels it in on the refreshingly subtle “Thank You” and elicits man tears on “Always Be Your Girl,” a touching ode to her son. A collaboration with Ne-Yo, “Incredible” is a tepid mid-tempo, and the inclusion of two songs from her Vegas show — a cover of Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and her duet with Stevie Wonder on “Overjoyed” — feel like padding on an otherwise strong, creative turning point in Dion’s career.
Three and a half stars.
— Chris Azzopardi