The 51-year-old Canadian pop singer Celine Dion, has presented us few of the most classic power ballads of the past two decades, singing about unstoppable love on chart-toppers “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” “Because You Loved Me” and “My Heart Will Go On.”
But her tales of everlasting romance took on a heartrending new definition in January 2016, when Dion’s husband, René Angélil, passed away after a years-long battle with throat cancer.
She has suffered another blow just two days later with the death of her elder brother, Daniel Dion, also from cancer.
It’s the type of huge loss that would immobilize anyone, but Dion, 51, has faced tragedy with her usual grace and persistent work ethic: publishing French-language album “Encore un soir” in late summer 2016, doing shows in Las Vegas and across North America and even going viral with cheeky appearances in “Deadpool 2” and “Carpool Karaoke.”
Now she’s back powerfully again with “Courage,” her initial English-language album in 6 years, which finds her immerse into a variety of genres as she pairs up with a slew of hit songwriters and producers.
In roughly 70 minutes on the album’s 20-song deluxe version, “Courage” can at times feel enormous and impersonal, as she tries on squalling EDM bangers (“Flying on My Own”) and middle-finger-waving empowerment pop (the Sia-written “Lying Down”), whose generic lyrics could’ve been picked from any grab bag of empty platitudes.
Few diversions work: “The Chase” is a throwback to guitar-strumming, Sheryl Crow-style adult alternative, and deftly captures what it’s like to have someone coming through your mind.
And Dion’s rich, throaty voice is excellently suited to “How Did You Get Here,” a slinky doo-wop ballad co-produced by Bruno Mars hitmakers The Stereotypes (“That’s What I Like,” “Finesse”).
But “Courage” honestly soars when the five-time Grammy winner strips back the theatrics and gets personal, as she does on the album’s touching title track. “There’s no replacing the way you touched me, I still feel the rush,” Dion sings over a piano.
“Sometimes it drowns me until I can’t breathe, thinking it’s only in our memories.”
The sentimental ballad captures the confusion and blankness one feels after losing a loved one, as she explains the conversations and plans that will never occur and clings to courage to keep going (“I’m staring in the face of something new, you’re all I got to hold on to”).
Other tracks paint bracing portraits of sadness and uncertainty, amazing how and whether to let another person into one’s heart.
“Remember the good times, let go of the pain,” Dion coos on the slowly “Say Yes,” reminding herself, “You deserve to feel that rush again.” And with “I Will Be Stronger,” she sings a rousing torch song that already feels like a karaoke classic, belting: “Sometimes love must die to be born again. One step up this road, it’s not the end.”
Honest, grandiose and endearingly messy, “Courage” is Dion throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.
There’s a lot here for new and longtime fans to latch onto, the most essential takeaway being that after a trying some years, the ever-resilient Queen Celine will be Fine.