As a Canadian, it’s practically required to love Celine Dion. She's a five–time Grammy winner and has the most number ones on the radio of any female artist. She has been awarded both the prestigious Order of Canada and the proud Order of Quebec, two of the highest civilian honors a Canadian can get. She's also the best–selling Canadian artist ever and the 200 million copies of her music sold worldwide make her one of the best–selling artists of all time.
So, naturally, I was excited for the Nov. 15 release of Courage—her first English–language album in six years. For those who mostly know Dion for songs like “My Heart Will Go On” and “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” it may come as a bit of a surprise that over half of her discography is made up of French–language albums. However, Dion is from Quebec, Canada’s francophone province, and only learned English after winning the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest, where she represented Switzerland. Her first eight albums are all in French, and she is known as the quintessential Quebecoise.
It's always interesting when she releases music in English. After all, the dominance of English as an international language makes these songs more likely to become hits around the globe, and it’s curious to see which of them have staying power outside of her home country. Courage, itself, was particularly anticipated, as it was promised to be her most emotional and vulnerable record yet, given its focus on the 2016 loss of her husband.
Unfortunately, the album is forgettable.
The lyrics, themselves, do somewhat fulfill the promise of emotion. Knowing the 2016 loss of Dion’s husband, you'd need to be heartless to not feel a pang when she sings, “but just when I thought I was destined to end up alone, you showed me there’s more to this life,” in “Falling in Love Again,” or when she sings of self–destructive coping mechanisms in “The Hard Way.”
Though these lyrics aren't written by Dion herself, it's her sentimental enunciation and the emotions with which she infuses each note that bring them to life. However, you have to ask whether they'd be more powerful if they were Dion’s own. She's no stranger to sentimental albums that focus on a single topic. After her first child was born, Dion’s work focused primarily on maternal love. "A New Day Has Come," dedicated to her son, received positive reviews and was written by others.
However, this time feels different. Though the lyrics themselves are emotional, in succession they all feel a bit trite. They sound performative instead of genuine, and I would hazard a guess that some, if not all, of the songwriters have not lost a beloved spouse. There's only so much Dion can do to infuse the words with her own experience.
In addition to the somewhat superficial lyrics, the thing that most stunts the vulnerability and passion of the album is the music itself. In contrast to the haunting woodwind melodies of “My Heart Will Go On,” every track on Courage sound like the remixes of Celine Dion songs that are played at a jazzercise workout class. Even more unfortunate, they all sound the same. After listening to the album in its entirety, I truly couldn't distinguish one from the other.
Dion may be an adult contemporary artist, and that particular genre may not be known to be the most innovative, but that's not an excuse for producing an unremarkable album. Alongside the lyrics, the muted techno beats of Courage make it feel like an artificial construction meant to pull on heartstrings.
To be clear, I doubt that it was. It has been four years since the death of Dion’s husband, and I'm sure that the experience of preparing and recording this record was incredibly emotional and important. Unfortunately, those efforts do not shine through in the final product.