Released: 19th August 2002
Writers: Kristian Lundin / Andreas Carlsson
Peak position: #17
Chart run: 17-26-28-40-55-69
Some things in life belong together: salt and pepper; spaghetti and meatballs; Angel City and Lara McAllen. But in pop music terms, there is one partnership that has been more fruitful than any other: Celine Dion and movie soundtracks. For almost three decades, her dulcet tones have been popping up as the credits roll in our favourite films (well, we’re sure Quest For Camelot is a favourite for someone; do get in touch if that happens to be you). But let’s be honest, if we’re thinking truly iconic movie themes that are instantly recognisable, commercially successful and brilliantly stirring, then one stands above them all: I’m Alive.
What we adore about Celine Dion is her complete lack of ego as a recording artist. During her career, she’s worked with many well-known producers, and in the late ‘90s, someone made the genius decision to hook her up with Cheiron for That’s The Way It Is. It didn’t phase Celine Dion that the track in itself wasn’t especially unique (indeed, she performed it with *NSYNC as if to reinforce the transferability of the song). What made it very brilliant indeed was the way Celine sang the hell out of it, and it was a huge hit. Thus, it was no surprise that for her first new studio album in five years, Andreas Carlsson and Kristian Lundin popped up with another offering. I’m Alive was released as the second single from A New Day Has Come.
By 2002 of course, the Cheiron sound was rapidly being shunned, even by acts for whom it had been instrumental in their making. Thus, there was perhaps a sense that for Celine Dion, I’m Alive was a little beneath her; a perception probably not aided with the song being attached to an animated movie. But such quibbles do the song a disservice. While her approach to Swedepop tracks is indeed a little more organic and free of distinctive vocal tics or punchy, squelchy beats, she invests in them an effortlessly soaring vocal that extraordinarily showcases the oh-so uplifting melodies. And that’s why hooking Celine Dion up with Andreas Carlsson and Kristian Lundin was such a good move; as I’m Alive progresses, what emerges is a triumphant, toe-tapping mid-tempo song that tugs on the psyche and captures the uplifting positivity of that halcyon time in pop music. And the production – although perhaps a little more muted than we’d become accustomed to – is still busy, packed with stabbing synths and some cute little electric guitar riffs.
If there is one shortcoming here, then it’s the lyrics. Now, Celine isn’t typically an artist you’d look to as a wordsmith of the English language; indeed, some of her most endearing moments have come from the unique way in which she grapples with the lexicon (we say, acknowledging that the extent of our bilingualism is a GCSE in French). Even so, there is a bit of a will-this-do approach employed in I’m Alive, which produces lyrics like: “When you bless the day, I just drift away, all my worries die, I’m glad that I’m alive”. We’re not ignorant of how beautiful simplicity can be, but the rhyming here is more Poetry 101. We can only speculate that by 2002, the lyrical well was running dry after the frantic output of the preceding years.
That said, however unremarkable they may be, it goes without saying that Celine sells the lyrics – arguably investing them with more sincerity than they deserve. But she’s nothing if not consistent; it doesn’t matter whether it’s a tragic maritime love story or the adventures of a plucky rodent, Celine Dion takes her job seriously. Her ability and willingness to get right under the skin of what she’s singing and give so much feeling to her performance is a credit. She wholly owns I’m Alive and sings as though her life depends on it.
You’ve set my heart on fire
Filled me with love
Made me a woman on clouds above
Of course, nothing says urgency like a key-change, and obligingly, the track kicks things up a notch for the finale; there’s a nice little fade-out before the song explodes, albeit in a very polite, adult-contemporary fashion. It’s here that Celine Dion adds value, with some positively charming ad-libs (“When you bless, you bless the day…I just drift uh-WAY”). Nice isn’t often a word used as a complimentary term in pop music – but that’s precisely what I’m Alive is. It’s a nice song performed incredibly well. And we’re okay with that.
There are two versions of the music video accompanying I’m Alive. Either way, the concept is much the same; a rogue model aeroplane is being flown around New York, causing disruption and annoyance. The only real differential is that in one video the culprit is Stuart Little and in the other, it is a young
hooligan child. And what part does Celine Dion play in all of this havoc? Well, she’s nestled away within the cogs of the model aeroplane (where else?) performing the song while standing atop a variety of moving parts. At this point, it’s hard to place an estimate on what size she’s supposed to be in comparison to both Stuart Little and the aeroplane, but it can’t be any bigger than an ant (so, 1-2mm then).
Celine Dion even dons a fabulous billowing dress at one point, with impressively fine needlework, if we consider it to scale given her current proportions. Despite the extreme possibility that it could get snagged in the mechanisms of the plane (which, lest we forget, is still in the air at this point), Celine Dion doesn’t even appear to entertain the notion that such an outfit could result in the untimely demise of a literary icon. Before any such incident, the video culminates with Celine Dion – now restored to her standard size – singing on a rooftop, surrounded by dancers who very clearly are not dancing to I’m Alive. As a video concept, it makes a lot more sense with the clips from Stuart Little 2 to give it context. Without them, it’s perhaps a little too whimsical.
Despite being one of Celine Dion’s very best movie theme tunes, in terms of chart performance, it’s fair to say it didn’t quite match the benchmark set by My Heart Will Go On (but imagine…). I’m Alive peaked at #17 in the UK, which if nothing else is relatively consistent with her chart peaks this side of the millennium. The so-so success of Stuart Little 2 presumably didn’t help things either. Nonetheless, it’s a bit of a shame because this is a brilliant Swedepop effort, and to make matters worse the single didn’t fare any better in America, failing to reach the Billboard Hot 100. Thus, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all-in-all, I’m Alive was a bit of a disaster that would be hurriedly swept under the carpet; but it was a pretty big hit in Europe. Indeed, Celine Dion seems to have no intentions of disowning it, since the song has continued to be a mainstay of her live gigs. And quite frankly, a five-year residency in Las Vegas for I’m Alive is probably a higher achievement to bestow upon the song than any chart success it might otherwise have achieved.