The old adage goes: “Time heals all wounds.” But for Celine Dion, music is the cure.
On her first English-language album in six years, the Grammy winner, 51, starts a new chapter after losing her husband of 21 years, René Angélil, to cancer in 2016. Courage (out Friday, November 15) is a heartrending, uplifting and utterly powerful record, and a worthy addition to Dion’s timeless catalog.
Across 16 tracks (20 on the deluxe edition), Dion soars to new heights as she grieves, copes and ultimately prospers in a new stage of her life. Much of the tracklist is evidently inspired by the gut-punch and aftermath of Angélil’s untimely passing. The Sam Smith-cowritten ballad “For the Lover That I Lost” finds a mournful Dion singing in a lower register than usual as she reflects upon memories that “feel like magic.” And on “Falling in Love Again,” she ends up being head over heels for a new partner when she least expects it: “Just when I thought I was destined to end up all alone / You showed me there’s more to this life.”
Courage flip-flops genres, ranging from the EDM opener “Flying on My Own” to the irresistible ‘50s-style doo-wop number “How Did You Get Here.” Sonically, the former does not mesh well with the rest of the album, which is forgivable; after all, its soaring, high-energy beat drop is a clear nod to Dion’s 16 years performing on the nightclub-filled Las Vegas Strip, a milestone in and of itself. However, the lyrics fit like a glove, notably the progressive bridge: “My feet on the runway / It’s a beautiful day / I look to the sky now / I’m finding my way.”
Sia cowrote and provided background vocals for several tracks, including the string-laden “Lying Down” (which she penned with David Guetta and go-to pop hitmaker Giorgio Tuinfort) and the infectious “Baby.” Dion emulates Sia’s signature singing style on these songs — as Rihanna did on “Diamonds” and Camila Cabello on “Crying in the Club” — but she still manages to make them her own. On “Lying Down” in particular, she turns the emancipating chorus into an unforgettable feminist anthem.
A few of the songs have very simple, bare-bones lyrics, namely “Say Yes” and “Nobody’s Watching,” on which Dion exhaustingly repeats, “I wanna dance, dance, dance, dance, dance like nobody’s watching” over a slightly country-western instrumental. Other times, however, she tugs at the heartstrings. On the title track, she finds strength in order to conquer a new challenge, singing, “I’m staring in the face of something new / You’re all I got to hold onto.” And on the dancey, refreshingly modern “Imperfections,” she self-reflects: “Before I can love you / I need to learn to love myself.”
Courage has many high points. “Perfect Goodbye” is so haunting that it instantly draws in the listener, while the surprisingly melodramatic “Lovers Never Die” could easily work as the next James Bond theme song. “The Chase,” meanwhile, is structured like an early Taylor Swift song or a Sheryl Crow classic — slow-building and centered around an acoustic guitar — with lyrics about the beginning stages of a relationship, when you can’t stop thinking about the other person and want to spend every waking moment with them. And then there’s “The Hard Way,” which closes out the deluxe version and features some of Dion’s most ambitious vocals in years, backed by an equally impressive choir.
The standout, though, is “I Will Be Stronger.” The grandiose piano ballad weighs heavy on the heart as Dion breaks down the importance of finding “sweetness” in an “hour of weakness.” During the heartbreaking bridge, she croons, “And I know we said forever / And I know you left your mark / But you gave me a life worth living.” It is a can’t-miss masterpiece and a poignant tribute to not only Angélil but also Dion herself and her newfound strength. May she continue to reign supreme.
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3 stars (out of 4)
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