CELINE DION                        

Her latest showcases an earthy approach to recording her inimitable vocals   

After selling more than 200 million albums and enjoying 25 years of global success, five-time Grammy Award-winning Celine Dion might be inclined to take it easy. But the powerhouse singer refuses to slow down, and while she continues her Las Vegas residency at Caesars Palace, she’s recorded a new album that challenges preconceptions.

On Loved Me Back to Life, the Canadian native explores a wide range of musical elements and enlists an impressive roster of contemporary hit-makers. Take for example the tunes penned by R&B artist and producer Ne-Yo—including the duet “Incredible”—or the title track, co-written by Australian singer-songwriter Sia, who’s penned tunes for Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry and Rihanna. “My son could not believe it,” Dion says. “He thought I was making it up when I said I was working with these people: ‘Mom, there’s no way!’”

Six years removed from her last English-language album, 2007’s Taking Chances, Dion is back with a renewed sense of energy and purpose. She will always reign as the queen balladeer of monster hits like “My Heart Will Go On,” “Because You Loved Me,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” but Dion is reintroducing herself with more uptempo, dance-ready material. At the same time, she’s scaled back on the vocal acrobatics, supplementing her vocal stylings with a deeper, raspier tone. “For me, I don’t look at it as a risk,” Dion says about her creative evolution. “It’s trying something new and different and fun.”

Away from the microphone, Dion, 45, enjoys the simple pleasures of home and family. She and her husband of 19 years, René Angélil, reside in Las Vegas with their three sons: René-Charles, 12, and twin 3-year-olds Eddy and Nelson. We spoke with Dion about her new approach and how her latest album has allowed her to take a walk on the wild side.

What’s different about this album?

It’s more modern, fresh and edgy—at least edgy for me. The producers put an emphasis on changing the recipe for this album. How we recorded my voice is different. The fact that you can totally denude my voice and make it raw is quite incredible. On my previous albums, there was a lot of reverb and effect on my voice with a blending of the music from the producers. This time, if there was a crack in my voice, we left it. It’s not perfect, it’s not a mistake—it’s what we wanted. It’s another kind of raw emotion, all about letting go and feeling the edge. There is perfection in the imperfection. I want to sing with passion. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Was there a theme?

I’m at the mercy of the songs because I don’t write them. So I can’t sit and tell you what I want the essence of the album to be. I have to hear a lot of songs and find the ones that are right. I feel very fortunate to have so many songs to choose from. I was given some amazing new material. After all these years, it’s great to still have these writers want you to record their songs. At first we were planning to have half of the album with covers I perform in the show and half with original songs—but there were so many great songs that we had to record them.

Who’s the architect of the new sound?

It was a team effort. All these new people who I’ve been working with are really inspiring. And I thought that I had done it all in my career. Of course, Stevie Wonder, Babyface, Ne-Yo and Sia were such a pleasure to work with.

What inspires your song selection?

I choose all of the songs on my albums. I’m the one who must sing them every night, and I’ll be singing them for the rest of my career. I have to sing with passion and convince people to reach within. I have to believe in what I’m singing.

Why did you choose to include “At Seventeen” on the new record?

“At Seventeen” was a discovery for me. Singing it allowed me to really know the song. It’s exquisite and extraordinary. [TV producer] Ken Ehrlich called me to pay tribute to Janis Ian [for 2008’s Grammy televised nominations special]. At the time I wasn’t very familiar with the song. The success of that song is remarkable.

Why has that song endured?

There aren’t a lot of songs like that now. During this time of being a teenager it gets to be awkward for all people. It was a soothing experience for me to be able to sing that song every night. These years in Las Vegas I have been singing for my own pleasure. But then I began realizing every night how the people were responding—holding hands and in tears. When we stop, reach out, and talk about these things, we truly listen to what we have all gone through. It’s like traveling through time to perform that song.

Feel the need to record new songs?

Now I can go out there with my old repertoire for the rest of my career, but there are new songs to add to my show. I’m not expecting anything. If the fans respond well to the music, then I’ll be more than proud. If not, I will still have the older songs to perform. I’m looking forward to feeling the response from the fans.

How do you care for your voice?

Some people can go out and scream and dance at the club at night, then take their guitar the next morning and sing in this sexy, soulful voice with a raw edginess. I wouldn’t be able to do that. In a way, I’m borrowing a bit from the life I never had. I’m borrowing from the characters in my songs. It’s very different. The characters might smoke and drink and have a good time—not that I want to smoke and drink—but I’m living through them.

Has less touring affected your voice?

The singing is not as tense. There was a time when I felt like I had to prove myself in the industry. I’m more relaxed now. It’s the best of myself. I have to be the best of me. There’s been a transition, and I have more maturity. I’m sounding much better. I’m grounded and going with the flow.

What keeps you motivated?

My children are the reason for everything. My singing is important to me, and I’ve had a wonderful career. I feel like I’m a child again. I have a beautiful family and a great husband, and I don’t need the career. I don’t benefit from show business anymore. But all artists love the spotlight, the attention, and love to perform. I love to express myself through music.

What’s the highlight of your career?

A lot of very important things have happened. Starting with the songs that my mother wrote for me in French when I was just 12. It’s like when you roll a little snowball and it gets bigger and bigger. Having success is just a combination of events, the momentum of things. The release of my first album was incredible. It was a big thing to do Jay Leno and Johnny Carson, and to perform in the Olympics and at the Oscars. Working with David Foster was a special moment, and then there was Beauty and the Beast and Titanic. It’s hard to pick just one moment.

–Blake Boldt


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