My mom and I always joke that Las Vegas residencies are where pop music careers go to die. They are almost exclusively pop divas that have lost their relevance in the mainstream. Their new albums see diminishing returns, and the residency is an easy steady check for them to bank on. Yet over the past few years, Celine Dion has consistently been proving us wrong.
Dion rose to worldwide prominence in the ’90s. She had been a successful teen star in Canada, releasing French-language albums throughout the ’80s. After gradually learning to speak English, she released her debut English-language album in 1990. Once Dion got her foot in the door, she took command of Adult Contemporary radio with her soaring emotional ballads and never looked back. She has earned diamond certification on two albums, a rare feat.
Dion began her second Las Vegas residency in 2011 at The Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace. She continued to perform there through this past June, completing a total of 427 shows. In that time she released two albums (2013’s “Loved Me Back to Life” and 2016’s “Encore un soir”), went on multiple European tours and won Billboard’s Icon Award.
Most importantly though, Dion lost her husband of 22 years and longtime manager, Rene Angelil, to throat cancer in 2016. Despite the devastating loss, Dion has continued to forge ahead.
Her new album “Courage,” released Nov. 15, is an exploration of this loss and how far she has come in the healing process. It is her first English-language album in six years, and the 12th in her career.
Much like on “Loved Me Back to Life,” “Courage” sees Dion collaborate with several modern forerunners of pop music to update her sounds. Smash hit songwriter Sia penned two tracks on the album and another on the deluxe edition. Sam Smith, Skylar Grey and Lauv also made writing contributions. On the production side, she gets assistance from David Guetta, Stargate, The Stereotypes, DallasK and Greg Kurstin.
Celine Dion finds the perfect balance of catering to current trends and knowing her voice, her audience and her age. Many mature pop stars often feel like they are playing young to connect with the target demographic, and it just comes off kitschy and cringe-worthy. But Dion hits the sweet spot and the level of camp and theatrics built into her brand helps her flourish.
The opening track, “Flying On My Own,” really sets the tone for the album. It took me quite by surprise on first listen. It starts out quite mellow, feeling like a typical ballad. But as Dion soars vocally in the pre-chorus, the classic dance break, piano stabs and hand claps come in. As she goes for the hook line a full house EDM drop hits. This song is Pride playlist ready.
For Dion, this song is about coming back into herself after her major loss. She had gone her whole career with Angelil by her side, but now she is quite literally “flying on her own.”
The album is centered around this loss but is not a sad album. It is an album about rebuilding yourself and discovering new parts of yourself late in the game. It is an empowering and hopeful listen.
Sometimes there is an odd sonic clash between the EDM influenced tracks and the more stripped and earnest ballads. Still, Dion never relinquishes the spotlight to the track. She is always front and center with a stunning vocal performance.
The album drags on a little long for the casual fan — it clocks in at 57 minutes, with the deluxe edition reaching an hour and 11 minutes. I would say check out the highlights first — “Flying On My Own,” “Lovers Never Die,” “Imperfections,” “Nobody’s Watching,” “The Chase,” “For The Lover That I Lost” and “Perfect Goodbye.”
Overall, it is immensely impressive to reach a point in your career where you are releasing your 27th album. Celine Dion has managed to stay fresh and stay true to herself over four decades and continues to be one of the most beautiful voices of our times.