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Celine Dion, ‘Loved Me Back to Life’
To have the glass-shattering lung power that Celine Dion has built an empire of love songs on in the last 20-some years hardly matters anymore. Shock value, personal stories of triumph and/or tragedy, and twerking – that’s how you sell an album, and Dion isn’t about to rub up on Robin Thicke. So that the singer is calling her latest, and first English-language album in six years, an “edgier” affair isn’t surprising. There’s a new generation of Adele fans still waiting to discover Celine’s still-powerful belt. And oh, does she belt. “Thankful,” a gospel-tinged highlight, is the kind of classic Celine song where you can practically see her doing that signature boob bop as she goes in for a series of runs. And there’s a choir. And that dramatic pause. But there’s also those notes that carry out the tunes that sound raspy and strained, like she’s serious about taking a trip to the dark side. Not like Eminem dark – but “Somebody Loves Somebody,” putting a no-good flame in his place, bites down with a set of teeth that Dion, always so sweet and pure, has rarely shown. Another glorious shift that goes gritty is “Breakaway,” a remarkable, spine-tingling showcase of the diva’s voice. Sounding smooth as silk, Celine reels it in on the refreshingly subtle “Thank You” and elicits man tears on “Always Be Your Girl,” a touching ode to her son. A collaboration with Ne-Yo, “Incredible” is a tepid mid-tempo, and the inclusion of two songs from her Vegas show – a cover of Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and her duet with Stevie Wonder on “Overjoyed” – feel like padding on an otherwise strong, creative turning point in Dion’s career. Grade: B+
Katy Perry, ‘Prism’
Damn you, divorce. You went and made Katy Perry all grown-up. Where’s the fireworks? The teenage dreams? They’re few and far between on Perry’s third major release, where her personal woes become cathartic self-empowerment anthems and criminally written true-life tales. Because this is possibly the worst of Perry’s career, let’s get “Ghost” out of the way. The track wants to be taken seriously. And it is a serious song: Aside from the introspective ballad “By the Grace of God,” it’s the most forward she’s been musically with regard to her relationship with Russell Brand and his text breakup. But these fourth-grade diary scribblings – ” … but you hit send and disappeared in front of my eyes” – cheapen any emotion we’re supposed to be feeling. “This is How We Do” is an embarrassment, too. And not because Perry “raps.” Again, its rankness is due to how much the content is dumbed down with cringe-worthy words about getting nails done “all Japanese-y” and “sucking real bad at Mariah Carey-oke.” “Prism” doesn’t suck real bad, though. It has its moments, all of which come early: galvanizing mantra “Roar” has a chorus so insanely catchy it’s no wonder it ruled the charts for so long, power ballad “Unconditionally” soars to cosmic heights, and “Legendary Lovers” takes Perry to India, where the mysteriousness of the track, and the sultriness of her feathered voice, is imbued with a surprisingly not-lame Bollywood sound. So, cool – she’s taking artistic risks. But by the end of “Prism,” you kind of wish Katy were still kissing girls and blasting Reddi-wip from her tits. Grade: C+
Donna Summer, ‘Love to Love You Donna’
Spearheaded by her longtime collaborator and husband, Bruce Sudano, this posthumous tribute to Donna Summer recruits some of the best in the business to put a new spin on the disco gems in the queen’s catalog. It’s a (re)mixed bag. The good: Giorgio Moroder’s euphoric “Love to Love You Baby” and his other contribution, “La Dolce Vita,” a song he’d been working on with Summer before she passed last year that now – with his “we miss her so” intones – serves as an elegy. The not so good: A version of “Last Dance” that just goes to show that some songs of Summer’s should go untouched.
Panic! at the Disco, ‘Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!’
The arena-pop trio has always prided itself on being pretty odd. And though this isn’t them at their weirdest – or even their best, really – there are some unexpected turns on the band’s techno-tinged fourth album. Among them, a sample of a Sesame Street jingle on “Vegas Lights,” an EDM track as glittery as the city – the boys’ hometown – they’re celebrating; “Girls/Girls/Boys,” a bisexuality anthem with ’80s spirit; and the brooding standout “Casual Affair,” an electro-rocker that has more in common with Depeche Mode than Panic! at the Disco.