Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Celine Dion's Sellout Album Arrives When Chrysler Sponsors One Heart *Shudder*

The Good: Some catchy tunes/good beats
The Bad: Terrible vocals, Annoying sound, Overproduced, Duration
The Basics: A creative, intellectual and commercial flop, Chrysler's big dance album for Celine Dion, One Heart has nothing to recommend it.

Every now and then, I encounter an album from an artist or performer that completely guts any respect I might have ever had for them. The example that always comes easiest to my mind is Jewel's album 0304, which was the album where Jewel mortgaged her folk roots for the dance genre. The album shows none of Jewel's emotional depth and it is marred by overproduction which obscures her actual talents as a singer-songwriter. It was her sellout album in my book and one of the worst albums I've ever heard. So, when I popped in Celine Dion's One Heart, I had a pretty firm comparative analogy.

One Heart is Celine Dion's sellout album in the same way as Jewel's 0304. Replacing Dion's actual voice is an overproduced, mechanized version of her sound. She is backed by drum loops and overbearing synths, produced to overwhelm her vocals, instead of letting her voice lead the songs. Replacing the familiar, slow ballads of Celine Dion are upbeat dance tracks that continue Celine Dion's obsession with songs about love with a completely different sound than any of her full albums has had before. In other words, on One Heart, Celine Dion sounds like anyone but.

This album is pure pop and seems designed to capitalize more on current trends (or the trends of 2003 when it was initially released) than it is the talents of Celine Dion. Dion opens the album with two dance tracks, then moves into a light pop song where she sounds more like Jann Arden than herself. But even by the time "Faith" - the third track - comes along, the listener is already turned off to the album. I attribute this to the inane sound of the first two tracks and the use of the word "ironical"* in "Love Is All We Need." Some things one just cannot come back from.

One of those things is trying to reinvent yourself as a dance-pop star when your target audience is fans of Barbra Streisand. While the Streisand audience is likely to take Dion back as soon as she releases something with some semblance of maturity (I suspect most of her target audience did not make it to her familiar-sounding, though ridiculously lyricked "In His Touch"), the thing many of us are likely to be more wary of is Celine Dion selling herself to a corporate sponsor. The main single from One Heart was the album opener, "I Drove All Night" which was used as a jingle for Chrysler. I understand almost all artists (but not The Doors!) will get corporate benefactors and sell their music as jingles, but it is disturbing when the sponsorship creates the album and not the other way around. In other words, when an artist uses their work to help a company it is one thing, when a company uses an artist to promote themselves, it is entirely another. One Heart, with its inclusion of the Chrysler corporate logo right into the packaging and notes in the liner (as well as pictures of Celine Dion in a car from one of the commercial shoots), represents the execution of the latter idea and the result continues to drain whatever creative influence Celine Dion might have had over her album from it.

With fourteen songs, clocking out at a measly 54:17, One Heart was Celine Dion's last new album before Chrysler housed her in Las Vegas for three years to perform nightly for them. The album has Celine Dion singing and at moments, her vocals are recognizable. But on songs like One Heart and "Stand By Your Side," her vocals are produced such that her natural voice is almost completely obscured and unrecognizable. The backing vocals on "Stand By Your Side" are so overwhelming that Dion is more often the accompaniment to her backers! This is not uncommon in today's music (Beyonce and Christina Aguillera do it, for example), but when one is paying for Celine Dion, we'd like Celine Dion's voice. Alas, we get that only on one track ("In His Touch") in an unmarred way where the production elements do not ruin her voice.

This is unfortunate because the one thing Celine Dion has going for her as a performer or anything resembling an artist is her voice. Celine Dion does not write any of her own material, she does not play any instruments and she turns production over to so many different people that her albums seem to be the buckshot approach from every known hitmaker in the business. That tradition is continued on One Heart, where once again Celine Dion does not write any of her own songs and whole teams are brought in to produce her songs. She does not play any instruments, but to be fair to her growth as an artist and performer, she is credited with her own background vocals on "Forget Me Not."

The unfortunate aspect of One Heart is how little there is to write about it because it is so monolithic in its delivery. This is one of the most sedate, traditional pop albums I've ever heard and the biggest departure from the innate talents of Celine Dion yet. Thematically, Celine Dion returns to singing almost exclusively about love and relationships. She adds more Gospel-themed songs into One Heart with songs like "Faith" and "In His Touch," but she guts the emotional resonance of them by including them on the same album that she has "Coulda Woulda Shoulda." Note to Celine Dion: whenever you try to sound either tough or ethnic, it just does not work for you! Dion even returns to her French Canadian roots with "Je T'aime Encore."

But even for a stylistic departure from her familiar ballads, One Heart is creatively underwhelming. "Sorry For Love (2003 Version)" is a remix of a song she had on the album before this and it is not a huge creative leap from the original. But even in the familiar-sounding songs like "Have You Ever Been In Love," One Heart is underwhelming. That song, for example, was written by five writers and the best imagery lines they could come up with were "Have you ever been in love / You could touch the moonlight / When your heart is shooting stars / You're holding heaven in your arms" ("Have You Ever Been In Love"). This is pretty overdone imagery and Dion and her team of writers say nothing different with it.

Of course, saying something is better when it is said in a way that it can be understood. "Reveal" is almost entirely unintelligible as Dion is overwhelmed by the programmed drums and guitars. Celine Dion has a pretty dainty sound at times and it does not work when her voice is competing with heavy-bass production elements. The result is unfortunate dance tracks where Dion screeches out things like "What we do in privacy / Make a woman out of me / When you're close it feels so right / You and I reveal tonight" ("Reveal") and the only reason why more listeners aren't scratching their heads ("reveal" as a euphemism for "make love?!") is that her vocals are so lost amid the instrumental accompaniment that they are lost.

I could pick each song apart thus, but the album is pretty cohesive in its terribleness**. Each bad track is followed by another one which somehow manages to be worse than the one before it. Celine Dion has a real dud on her hands with One Heart and one may only hope that she either blamed it on her corporate sponsors*** or the teams that put her material in front of her. I suppose the only real advantage of not having much creative control over an endeavor is that it's easy to deflect the blame.

"I Drove All Night" is a catchy pop number and the least bad song on the album and while the rest of the album is bad, none are quite as gut-churning nauseating as "Coulda Woulda Shoulda."

For other works by Celine Dion, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Celine Dion
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


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

* an actual word and grammatically correct here!
** not an actual word, but it ought to be.
*** seriously, Chrysler helped pay the bill in exchange for using "I Drove All Night."****
**** That's an unfounded accusation on my part, but this album has all the artistic flair of an auto assembly line.

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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