A book in which the author tries to learn to love Celine Dion is the most important piece of music criticism written in the past two decadesby Richard Beck / December 11, 2014 / Leave a comment
Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson (Bloomsbury, £10.99)
“33 1/3” is a series of short books about individual albums of popular music. Its first entry, a 131-page love letter to the Dusty Springfield record Dusty in Memphis, was published in 2003, and almost all of the 100 books that followed have focused on beloved classics (the Beatles, James Brown) or established critical favourites (Big Star, Liz Phair, J Dilla). In 2007, however, the Canadian cultural critic Carl Wilson inverted the “33 1/3” template by writing a book about a global megastar whose music reviewers almost universally revile: Celine Dion. That book, Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, has now been republished in a revised and expanded edition (one that includes new essays on Wilson’s work written by James Franco and Nick Hornby, among others, as well as a much less appealing subtitle than the original). It is the most important piece of music criticism of the last two decades, a book that embodies the way the conversation about pop music has changed in recent years.
Wilson’s book is a rigorous attempt to subject his own critical impulses to the same degree of scrutiny that he accords the music he reviews. His starting point was the standard position on Dion’s work: “Her music struck me as a bland monotony raised to a pitch of obnoxious bombast,” he writes, “R&B with the sex and slyness surgically removed…” Wilson’s initial disdain reached a more acute stage in 1998, when Dion’s enormous global hit song “My Heart Will Go On,” from the soundtrack of the film Titanic, took home the Academy Award for Best Song, triumphing over the sad, delicate songwriter Elliott Smith, who had also been nominated that year. Celine-hatred became a shibboleth among critics who saw themselves as champions of obscure, ambitious, and difficult art. “As far as I knew,” Wilson writes, “I had never even met anybody who liked Celine Dion.”
Wilson spends the rest of Let’s Talk About Love breaking these feelings down, bit by bit.…