This week, I've had the opportunity to do spring cleaning and enjoy some music. Unexpectedly, I felt drawn to Celine Dion's My Love: Essential Collection, a greatest hits package that came out in 2012. Dion has never been my favorite, in part because I've been drawn to other stars (namely Cher and Whitney Houston) when I need a diva fix. However, it's too easy to forget how much Dion shaped the pop music landscape during the 90s. Sure, she has her quirks, but she has made some of the most enduring adult contemporary music in the past 20 years.
The diva's most successful period spans two albums: 1996's Falling into You and 1997's Let's Talk About Love, both of which rocketed her into the pop stratosphere. My Love represents this period with "Because You Loved Me," "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," "Falling into You," and "All By Myself" from Falling, and "My Heart Will Go On" and "Tell Him" (a duet with Barbra Streisand) from Let's Talk. Revisiting these tunes, the material from Falling into You has aged well in all of its operatic melodramatic glory. The Meatloaf-like epic of "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" still works because the performer and production embrace its absurdity. "All By Myself" benefits from a similar commitment. My favorite of the bunch is "Because You Love Me," which feels subtle by comparison; it's slow-groove light R and B has a lot of energy because Dion's voice sounds crisp and alive. These songs work so well because they find a balance between Dion's vocal dramatics and a production that can strengthen her delivery--something the Let's Talk About Love material doesn't manage. "My Heart Will Go On" could also be heard as a vocal epic, but it starts too syrupy and swells too slowly, just as "Tell Him" seems to linger too long over Streisand and Dion's more cloying vocal indulgences.
My favorite tunes on the collection feature a softer, more subtle Dion. "That's The Way It Is" remains her masterpiece--a slice of bright dance pop during which the diva doesn't muscle through the vocal; she sounds at ease and having fun. The same could be said for the two singles from A New Day Has Come, her 2002 comeback album. I had forgotten about these songs and how relaxed Dion sounds with the material. Both "A New Day Has Come" and "I'm Alive" find a calm, serene, and almost zen diva singing over soft dance beats. Some reviewers during this period said the singer was getting the "Cher treatment," and it's true that the songs' spiritual dance-pop has some things in common with Cher's music from the period, but Dion's material has softer edges, which suit her laid-back vocal delivery. (She also avoids the vocal processing that Cher has experimented with for the past 15 years.)
I enjoy the whole My Love greatest hits package, but I keep going back to these lighter Dion dance tunes. Though the grandiose ballads (many of which I have not even discussed in this review) have a lot of campy fun, I like hearing Celine Dion relax. Critics have dismissed her for the bombast in her earlier work, but there is more to her discography than that. There is warmth, gentleness, and fun too.
Note: I based this review on the European version of Celine Dion's My Love: Essential Collection. The North American disc has a slightly different track list.