Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Vocally Impressive, Celine Dion's Falling Into You Is Still Strangely Unsatisfying.

The Good: Good vocals, Some memorable tunes
The Bad: Often overproduced, Some unimpressive lyrics
The Basics: Good, but remarkably average, the best songs from Falling Into You are available on Dion's compilation albums, making it easy to pass this album by.

It can be pretty intimidating to pop up with a review of one of the all-time best-selling albums in the world with an alternative viewpoint, yet this is where I once again find myself. Despite her being my female Artist Of The Month this month, I am not a huge fan of Celine Dion, having only reviewed one of her compilation albums (here!), her Christmas album (here!) and heard her works on the radio before I picked up Falling Into You from my wife's collection. Celine Dion has been in Las Vegas the last few years when I have made my journey there for my annual convention and I've heard the excited conversations of people in the hotel shuttle waiting to see her for the umpteenth time. I heard the same accolades for Barry Manilow, who was performing in the same hotel as the convention I sell at.

Still, the more I listen to this album, the more unimpressed I find myself by the work. Indeed, the album is overproduced and has an assembled-sounding quality that it rightly deserves. The album is a compilation of many talents from various musical generations with Dion simply performing them. The range extends back from the Phil Spector track popularized by Tina Turner, "River Deep, Mountain High" up to a song composed by Jim Steinman which opens the album. If Steinman is not a name that rings any bells, it is because he is the musical and lyrical brains behind the wildly successful 1990's album by MeatLoaf Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell (reviewed here!). The reason the song "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" sounds like it could have been on that album for its orchestral sound and winding lyrics that don't seem to quite make their point is because they were by the talent that made Meat Loaf sound that way.

My point here is that to the listener who is seasoned over a wide range of artists from many generations, Falling Into You is likely to sound anything but original. Outside Celine Dion's obvious vocal talents, the album is largely a passionless, assembled, overproduced album with surprisingly little spark. This is not to say it is devoid of charm; "All By Myself" and "Because You Loved Me" see to the charm factor by themselves, but it is remarkably average for its assembly. Indeed, I suspect many listeners who have had this album on the shelf for over a decade would be unable to hum the tune to "Call The Man." This is not intended as an insult; musically the song is strikingly similar to the theme to "Because You Loved Me," but with less spark and impact.

Such is how the album goes. With fourteen songs clocking out at 67:02, Falling Into You is anything but an exemplary display of the talents of singer Celine Dion. Dion, unlike Shania Twain who holds the record for most albums sold above this one, does not so much as co-write a single song. Dion shows up and sings. She sings the works of Aldo Nova, Andy Marvel, and Diane Warren. Almost every track is written by a different person or writing team and the album is similarly fractured in its production. Virtually every track has a different producer and it is amazing that the album sounds so blandly homogenized as a result (there are literally fifteen producers for the album, none of whom are Dion). Celine Dion does not perform a single instrument on the album, either. Instead, she just shows up and performs the lines that are put before her.

Herein lies the problem with "Falling Into You;" all of the songs that are put before Dion on the album, outside "River Deep, Mountain High" call upon Celine Dion to perform in almost the same way. Dion presents with a quiet, earnest voice that becomes more forceful and forthright as she sings longer, with obvious crescendos and a generally wispy quality that is alternated with a strangely subdued ballsy sound. So, for example, when it does not sound like Celine Dion is being stretched on a rack to elongate the notes of "It's All Coming Back To Me Now," she sounds demure and the instrumentals are produced to sound big, epic and powerful above her voice. The result is an odd combination of her trying to sound assertive with her vocals but being sublimated to the pounding strings and percussion, so she sounds unsuccessful.

She is successful with articulating on "River Deep, Mountain High." On that, she sounds appropriately in charge of the music, but there's no soul, no spark to her voice there. She has the appropriate volume and there seems to be the emotional intent in her voice, but the chutzpah, for lack of a better word, is just not there.

On the rest of the album, Dion sings so she can be heard, but she is produced on par with her instrumental accompaniment. Generally, the songs have her performing in her pleasant soprano voice with the lines clearly sung. The reason "Because You Loved Me" is so memorable is because the poetry is so directly and beautifully sung, just as "All By Myself" is so wrenching for the emotionalism Dion is able to express. She has an inarguably beautiful voice.

Lyrically, though, Falling Into You is hardly a masterpiece either of complexity or great diction. It does not matter how clearly Dion is able to sing lines like "The winds of the heart can blow me down / But I get right up and I stand my ground / I've tasted fear, my share of pain / The wasted tears of love in vain / I've held you tight, pushed you away / Now with all my might I beg you to stay" ("I Don't Know"), the poetry is unimpressive. Given the preoccupation with relationship songs, Falling Into You is surprising for the lack of emotional depth evoked by the lyrics.

Falling Into You is largely a quiet album when the orchestra is not being overbearing and herein lays the final problem with the album. Outside three or four of the songs, the musical accompaniment - large string sections, mellow percussion - begins to blend together such that the last half of the album has no distinct sound to it. The album is good for quiet, romantic nights or music to paint by for moody artists needing musical accompaniment to drown out the world, but it's a lot more average than it is extraordinary.

The best track is "All By Myself," the low point is the utterly unmemorable "If That's What It Takes."

For other, former, Artist Of The Month artists, be sure to check out my reviews of:
@#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
Break Every Rule - Tina Turner
The Singles Collection - Britney Spears


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

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