The Good: Moments the vocals break through the production elements, I can't complain about including a Janis Ian cover!
The Bad: Overproduced, Not a cohesive album
The Basics: Loved Me Back To Life is an album that seems to be Celine Dion desperately chasing a hit song, more than a cohesive musical experience.
Every musical artist who has massive success has a peak from which they invariably fall. Every empire falls and for the truly enduring musical artists, that empire falls slowly and the artist or performer seldom goes quietly. As the world changes, artists like Celine Dion continue to try to find their place in it and even in 2013 when Loved Me Back To Life came on, most radio stations (at least in the United States) were not playing music like the songs that had made Celine Dion a worldwide musical phenomenon. While Celine Dion had ebbs and flows within her career before her Las Vegas residency, none of her albums had sounded so . . . desperate before Loved Me Back To Life.
Allow me to explain. Loved Me Back To Life is not a cohesive album, it is a collection of singles designed to try to sell one that will land the album. The album does not have a producer; like collaborative hip-hop albums, Loved Me Back To Life features various producers for each track as each producer attempts to make a hit and the album is pretty much thrown together and the hope Sony had was that one would stick with listeners. The result is an album that features songs like "Water And A Flame," which sounds like it could have been a James Bond theme and "Save Your Soul," which sounds like Rhiannon! And while technically accurate, Celine Dion's cover of Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" is hard to take seriously as Dion's personal history makes the lyrics feel entirely inauthentic from her.
With thirteen songs, clocking out at 60:58, Loved Me Back To Life is very much a collaborative effort which Celine Dion had very limited apparent control over. Dion did not write any of the songs on Loved Me Back To Life and she plays no instruments on it as well. Celine Dion does provide all of the lead vocals, but she is not credited even as a co-producer on the album, so it is questionable how much creative control she actually had over the venture.
Opening with the poppy, overproduced "Loved Me Back To Life," Loved Me Back To Life sounds right away more like a dance-pop album than anything else. Ironically, from "Thank You" (track 8) on, Loved Me Back To Life presents more familiar-sounding pop ballads that actually showcase more of Celine Dion's voice than the front-half of the album. Instead, percussion, engineering elements and auditory majesty seem to be the priority of Loved Me Back To Life; the album desperately tries to create something that sounds big and full. But with elements like an electric guitar solo at the end of the first track, listeners are far more likely to be asking "what the hell?!" as opposed to thinking they actually bought a Celine Dion album. The Gotye-like "Somebody Loves Somebody" finds Celine Dion fighting massive basslines to get her vocals out and the backing music is far more compelling than the lines Dion sings.
Vocally, Loved Me Back To Life is an unfortunate departure for Celine Dion. On the songs on Loved Me Back To Life, Dion does not try to hit the truly high notes that were once her staple. For sure, she goes whispy and high on "At Seventeen" and she holds notes a decent amount of time on "Somebody Loves Somebody," but far more often than not, Dion's vocals are altered by production elements or she stays in the lower registers, making an unimpressive auditory Celine Dion experience. Added to that, Loved Me Back To Life is notable in that it includes two guest vocalists - Ne-Yo on "Incredible" (Ne-Yo also produced "Thank You") and Stevie Wonder on his song "Overjoyed." I suppose Wonder and Dion might have wanted to work with one another, but the Ne-Yo song with its overproduced backing and odd vocal accompaniment just sound like Dion is desperately chasing a younger audience. Hell, on "Thank You," Celine Dion sounds like virtually identical to Michael Jackson (on "You Are Not Alone") for a disturbing amount of time on the track!
Lyrically, Loved Me Back To Life is all over the map. While the album starts with songs about love, the album moves into gratitude and then into completely inauthentic songs about youthful awkwardness. All of the songs are covers, so presumably she wanted to sing things like "I can't believe in every word you're saying / Wrapped up in every kiss you've poisoned / I could swear I've never tasted sin / But If I just knew / I'll forget what you've done / But I can't save your soul ("Save Your Soul"), which creates a fairly jumbled narrative. The musical protagnist knows their partner is lying, but seems to be okay with it as long as the subject does not want her to save his soul?!
The lack of consistent writing on Loved Me Back To Life leads to some of Celine Dion's least-compelling lyrics. There is no smash hit on Loved Me Back To Life arguably because of rhymes like "I'm pickin' up all the pieces / When I put 'em back together I'm like new / 'Cause my greatest wish has already come true . . . I'll be holdin' the wrap if you tumble and fall / There's love after love after all" ("Always Be Your Girl"). None of the songs have lines that pop in a new, fresh way for Dion.
But Loved Me Back To Life becomes very hard to take seriously when Celine Dion covers "At Seventeen." The song is wonderful with lines like "I learned the truth at seventeen / That love was meant for beauty queens / And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles / Who married young and then retired" ("At Seventeen"), but they are entirely outside Dion's experience. Celine Dion was a massive pop star in Canada by seventeen. She is hardly the one to credibly sing "And those of us with ravaged faces / Lacking in the social graces / Desperately remained at home / Inventing lovers on the phone" ("At Seventeen").
Artists absolutely should evolve, but on Loved Me Back To Life, Dion is only a performer. Celine Dion is performing, with incredibly minimal creativity to her work (the song I knew best on Loved Me Back To Life was "At Seventeen" and Dion stripped it back to a sound very similar to Janis Ian's "one woman and a guitar" sound, unlike anything else on the album) and the choices Dion and Sony make on this album make it sound more like a desperate attempt for a hit than anything truly creative or thematically unified. Instead, Loved Me Back To Life is a remarkably ineffective attempt to swing for a very different sound and because Dion does not settle on a sound or message, Loved Me Back To Life comes across as more messy and desperate than divine.
The best songs are "Thank You," "Water And A Flame," and "At Seventeen;" the others are not worth listening to.
For other works by Celine Dion, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Power Of Love (single)
The Colour Of My Love
Falling Into You
Let's Talk About Love
The Collector's Series, Volume 1
A New Day Has Come
These Are Special Times
Miracle: A Celebration Of New Life
I Drove All Night (single)
My Love: Essential Collection
My Love: Ultimate Essential Collection
See how this album stacks up against every other musical work I have reviewed by checking out my Music Review Index Page for a listing where albums are organized best to worst!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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