Many singers perform in their second language and manage to sound convincing. Despite selling a reported 200 million albums – including 27 million copies of that Titanic soundtrack – Céline Dion is not one of them. Time and again, during a 105 minute-long set, the Canadian superstar warbles, mangles English syllables until they're unrecognisable and inserts unnatural pauses into lyrics like "I hold... on... to your body" in "The Power of Love".
Considering that most of her show consists of love songs, this is rather a drawback. In fact, as an interpreter, Dion only truly inhabits Jean-Jacques Goldman's "Pour Que Tu M'Aimes Encore", her French signature song, and "My Love", a Linda Perry bespoke number from Taking Chances, her misnomer of a current album, which has underperformed despite the involvement of dozens of writers and producers.
She opens with "I Drove All Night", the yearning Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly composition that served Roy Orbison and Cyndi Lauper so well, and which was Dion's last UK hit in 2003. She's only revving up but, even if her 10-piece band, heavy on the cheesy synths, are never quite loud enough, Dion is soon at full throttle and making light work of power ballads "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" – from the Jim Steinman/Meat Loaf canon – and Heart's "Alone". It's like Magic or Heart FM in front of your very eyes.
"It's been way too long," Dion apologises to her British fans as if to make up for the fact that she chose to play a record-breaking Las Vegas residency for five years instead of touring the world. Of course, the O2 has become an offshoot of Vegas, hosting Elton John's Red Piano show last year and now this soulless production.
The drummer must have played "All By Myself", Eric Carmen's guilty pleasure Seventies song, hundreds of times but still manages to sound leaden. Despite raising her eyebrows, at no point does Dion invest the song with any feeling. Undaunted, she collapses at the end and celebrates her vocal callisthenics as if she'd scored a touchdown.
The conveyor belts on which she slides and glides become metaphors for the whole shebang, which also features an ill-advised soul medley and ends rather flatly with "Love Can Move Mountains". Inevitably, the beached finale on the bank of the Thames is "My Heart Will Go On". Start swimming!
Céline Dion plays the NIA, Birmingham, tomorrow (see www.celinedion.com)