Heart, No Soul

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Celine Dion begins a three-year gig at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas next year. She should be right at home in the city of Siegfried & Roy. Dion doesn't make anything disappear except albums--140 million sold worldwide--but like the strangely tanned lion tamers, she specializes in providing big, mainstream entertainment with a chimerical twist.

Dion was raised in Quebec and learned English as an adolescent, so her lyrical emphasis is slightly but consistently odd. She also sings generic love songs with frightening sincerity; the combination makes her seem a little bit kooky and a little bit spooky.

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So who are all the people buying Celine Dion albums, and who will buy her latest, A New Day Has Come? No doubt the many folks who enjoy a nice voice singing a nice song. Dion's voice is a strong instrument with terrific range, and on New Day she has even learned to modulate it. On the restrained title track and the ballad I'm Alive, she has cast aside the chest beating of My Heart Will Go On. The 16 songs, credited to a long list of professional scribes, are mostly pap; there are the usual third-chorus key changes--take it up a notch!--and the lyrics are a bland word salad about love and renewal. But they're nontoxic and fine for singing along with in traffic.

Dion falters when she tries to cover the Etta James' burner At Last. It's a song that requires soul; Dion hits all the notes, but there's a mass-produced, in-flight-magazine impersonality to her version. The chorus is downright chilly. But then, you don't turn to Celine Dion for love.