Monday, January 23, 2012

Celine Dion: Suddenly The Tragically Unhip Is A Celebrated Icon...

Oh, to love the music of Celine Dion in the 1990s... In her hitmaking prime, we who savored every note of the skyscraping ballads, adored those gooey love songs, who proclaimed with fierce conviction that Celine was the finest vocalist alive... were the tragically unhip.

After so long, I gave up defending my love for Celine and simply savored my private heaven. One day you'll see, I reasoned...

You're talking to a guy who listened to The Carpenters and Barry Manilow when he was 10. Being the dude with cool music tastes has never been a priority. For god's sake, you'd think Celine was born to be a gay idol, but nope, even the majority of my comrades sneered she was too bombastic for a queer palette. Huh?

But there were always plenty of us out there, members of an out & proud private club comprising tens of millions of squares...

And take a look at Celine now. At age 43, with her second Las Vegas residency, she is the belle of the ball, the undisputed queen of the Strip. Following the launch of the show in March, I was stunned at critics' universal praise for Celine—and the accolades continue to roll in. Now we're reading headlines like "It's simply her time."

This is an artist who, for a decade, had barbs tossed her way by most every published writer vying to prove their "critical" tastes were too cultivated to praise the likes of "My Heart Will Go On." (Hmm, there was one certain Billboard journalist whose acclaim was framed around his praise of artists that mastered melodies and capable vocals, without regard for their hip factor.)

For heaven's sake, top pop male artist of 2011 Bruno Mars performed a cover of "My Heart Will Go On" at last week's fundraiser "Hilarity for Charity," sponsored by Seth Rogan, which flanked the society pages nationwide Thursday, January 12.

Below the jump is yet another example of how the tide has turned. This beautifully adept piece appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal January 20. I could not have put it better myself. (It's edited down; full version here). *
By Mike Weatherford
It's simply her time. "Celine" will be the single name associated with this era of Las Vegas, as Elvis, Frank and Wayne were with theirs. And there is still time to talk about it in the present tense.

If you see the singer this weekend, or again starting Feb. 22, you will be seeing her in her prime. Only video clips remain to remind us of the young power balladeer. "Where Does My Heart Beat Now?" Not anywhere near this song, thank you.

But the genius of this show is reaching beyond the star's own catalog of hits, as all good Vegas shows do. From Ella Fitzgerald to Michael Jackson and James Bond
movie themes, there are songs for everyone to like.And at 43, Dion is just the right age to sing them all. She is not yet facing the years of diminishing vocal power and is still young enough to flash some leg in her stiletto heels without inciting snickers.

But this show will probably be the city's best entertainment news this year, 
just as it was when it opened last year. What emerges from a second viewing is how veteran TV special director Ken Ehrlich provides a visual to go with almost every song, yet it doesn't come off as overkill in the manner of Dion's first Caesars Palace opus, "A New Day." The underlying theme is a celebration of live musicianship; a flotilla of players, including a 16-piece string section, glide in and out on risers or pop up in small combinations.

Oh yes, the star. Dion's voice still tends to skip the midrange, as so many power ballads do when their whispery verses 
explode into Olympian choruses. Dion tells us Carole King wrote "The Reason" for her, and you wonder if that mellow singer-songwriter penned it with those very low/high/nothing-in-between dynamics in mind.

Singing Eric Carmen's "All By Myself," Dion reaches with one hand to grab that word "self" and pull it right out of her gut. And when she blows the roof off with an extended "anym-o-o-o-r-e," she treats herself to a celebratory fist 
pump.And yet she gamely branches into skat singing for "(If You Can't Sing It) You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)." And the peak of the evening isn't the obligatory "Titanic" theme, but the subdued French tear-jerker "Ne Me Quitte Pas" (known in English cover versions as "If You Go Away").

Some fans on this night might have been disappointed that Dion stuck to scripted banter instead of going off on a tangent to unload what's really on her mind, as she has been known to do. But they will come back. And if she does it next time, it will be one of those Vegas memories we talk about.