Highs are high for virtuoso, but lows are beyond awful


Music may be an art first and foremost, but there's also a lot of craft involved. Particularly on the performance end, where taste and timing are worthless without the ability to implement them. After all, there are few things as frustrating for music lovers as hearing a weak voice struggle to carry a strong melody.

But when dealing with virtuosos, the situation reverses. If a singer has been blessed with a voice that can do almost anything, ability matters less than taste and timing. Because there's nothing more embarrassing than hearing a great voice squandered on a mediocre melody.

Unless, of course, it's two great voices wasted on a terrible tune, as happens when Luciano Pavarotti joins Celine Dion for a number on her new album, "Let's Talk About Love" (550/Epic 68861). The song in question is "I Hate You Then I Love You," and yes, it's every bit as awful as the title suggests, with a melody that exists only to let the singers show off, and lyrics that read as if they had been translated from a bad Italian soap opera. It's inane, annoying and a near-total waste of time for everyone involved (including the listener).

It's also unfortunately typical of what's wrong with "Let's Talk About Love." There's no question that Dion has a great voice, and there are many selections on the album that find her using her instrument wisely and well. But when she goes wrong, she goes so wrong that it's hard not to question her taste.

"Tell Him," recorded with Barbra Streisand, raises doubts about Dion's judgment. That she would want to record with Streisand seems reasonable enough, given the elder diva's stature. But this song? Why on earth would Dion agree to a tune that not only doesn't allow her to show her strengths, but which lacks an obvious pop hook? What was she thinking?

Fortunately, not all of "Let's Talk About Love" is so misbegotten. "The Reason," in fact, may be one of the best things Dion has ever done. A Carole King song with a soaring, triumphant chorus backed by a lush, Beatlesque orchestral arrangement (courtesy of the Beatles' own producer and orchestrator, George Martin), it gives Dion both an opportunity to show off her vocal power, and a legitimate context for that display.

Almost as good is the tartly dramatic "Us," which builds to a big -- but not oversung -- finale, while her remake of Diana King's "Treat Her Like a Lady" brings much-needed rhythmic energy to the album (though, personally, I could have done without Dion's approximation of Jamaican patois).

But most of the album is awesomely mediocre. Tracks like "Love Is On the Way" and "Miles to Go (Before I Sleep)" are palatable enough, but their mushy melodies and mid-tempo rhythm arrangements are as enticing as a bowl of boiled squash. Her remake "When I Need You" was entirely unnecessary, while "My Heart Will Go On," a splashy, Celtic-flavored ballad from the film "Titanic," is a real s(t)inker.

"Let's Talk About Love" may not be a complete disaster, but neither is it the triumph Dion intended. Maybe next time around, someone will talk to her about taste.

'Talk' line

To hear excerpts from Celine Dion's new release, 'Let's Talk About Love," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6187. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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