Celine Dion’s new album Courage embodies its title before even giving it a listen. With a deluxe edition clocking in at 20 tracks (and a standard at 16), it’s courageous and ambitious for any mainstream artist, especially of Celine’s tenure, to release that much music at once in 2019. But in the face of struggle, Celine Dion perseveres.
Courage marks Celine’s first English album both in 6 years and since the death of her husband/manager Rene Angelil. For some, it might be viewed as a test of how her music career fares without his guiding hand. Rene steered Celine’s career from its inception in 1981 and all the way into the stratosphere when she crossed over into the American market with “Where Does My Heart Beat Now” in 1990.
“Cause it’s not easy, when you’re not with me” she concedes on the title track “Courage.” There’s an ongoing theme of acknowledging Rene’s loss on the album, and the feelings that surround it. The album’s most heartfelt cut, “For The Lover That I’ve Lost,” takes it a step further. “There’s so much I really miss about you” and “I haven’t felt free without you” are a few choice lyrics, along with the chorus opening line: “So I lay a dozen roses, for the lover that I lost”. Written by Sam Smith, Jimmy Napes, and Stargate, the subtle arrangement and single vocal track allow the song’s vulnerability (something so often missing in today’s pop sphere), to shine through. There’s no big vocal show out either, Celine conquers with control. Instead of delivering the final stanzas with the power we all know her voice possesses, she pulls back, only crescendoing slightly. In this case, she gives the tender words more power delivering them gently than she would with a big vocal.
With that said, she does unleash the full power of her instrument on numerous occasions. Her voice is on full display on the resilient, militant early release “Lying Down,” a true Celine power ballad. Co-written by and featuring background vocals from Sia, it’s the perfect vehicle for Celine’s powerhouse voice. “Change My Mind” on the other hand is a more contemporary mid-tempo where she takes the chorus and soars. So does deluxe edition closer “The Hard Way,” where Celine does some of her strongest singing on Courage.
She lets loose on the album’s EDM-driven opener “Flying On My Own.” Yeah, Celine’s doing the EDM now, and it actually kind of works. There are traces of EDM effects sprinkled throughout the album, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places. Most of Courage is ballads and mid-tempos, which can blend together on first listen. But after further listens, their makeup varies. “Lovers Never Die” is another standout. It applies subtle EDM drops and stuttering synths to an R&B instrumentation, fronted by a slick and feisty vocal delivery from Celine. It reads wild, and it sounds just as wild. “If lovers never die, then why do I need you?” she inquires as the song swells and overflows.
Though loss is a focal point of Courage, the courage to push forward is a foundational element of the album. Another understated, beautiful ballad, “Falling In Love Again,” tackles the subject of love when “I never thought that I would be strong enough to move on” and “this wasn’t part of our plan,” “just when I thought I was destined to end up all alone, you showed me there’s more to this life.”
Elsewhere there are straightforward takes on pop-rock (“The Chase,” “Look At Us Now”), more ballads (“Perfect Goodbye,”, “I Will Be Stronger,” “The Chase”), some contemporary pop (“Imperfections,” “Baby,” “Look At Us Now”), and hints of folk (“Nobody’s Watching”) and even a touch of bluesy doo-wop (“How Did You Get Here”).
Through and through Courage is a solid body of work. Plus four bonus tracks on the deluxe edition, and an additional cut on the Japan edition, Celine more than satisfies the thirst for new music, and quality material. The Titanic could sink, and Celine would be there, singing. The world could be under attack, and Celine would be there, singing. She has suffered tremendous personal loss, and Celine Dion is, singing. And she’ll go on, and on.
Key Tracks: “For The Lover That I’ve Lost”, “Lovers Never Die”, “Lying Down”, “Flying On My Own”, “The Hard Way”
Listen to Courage: