The critics vs. a lot of happy people
At least one reviewer's given up trying to shoot down the invincible Céline Dion
AARON WHERRY | November 22, 2007 |
What you think of Céline Dion's new record depends mostly on who you believe. Or at least who you read.
"Taking Chances, Dion's 10th [English-language studio] album, finds her doing just that," proclaimed the Toronto Star's reviewer last week. Countered the Boston Globe's critic: "Are chances taken? Not many." Still, concluded the website All Music Guide in a three-star review, "It's an album of its time." Unless, of course, it's not. "The album is comfortably ignorant of the times," argued Toronto's Now magazine in a two-star verdict.
In a way, then, Céline Dion is once more proving to be all things to all people. Or at least something to everyone. This largely explains why she's been able to both sell 200 million records and annoy the hell out of at least twice that many humans. And it's often this convergence of worldwide appeal and mass loathing that confounds those who have found employment as judges of music's worthiness.
Carl Wilson, a critic with the Globe and Mail, has written an entire book about it. Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste is to be released next month as part of Continuum's 33 1/3 series(which otherwise devotes its instalments to the critically adored and canonized). Naturally repulsed by the likes of My Heart Will Go On, Wilson studies the cultural history of Quebec, travels to Las Vegas, consults a drag queen and finds himself at least appreciative of Dion. So much so that, in a review for the Globe last week, he concluded that Taking Chances "takes some positive steps in the dezombification of Céline Dion." Which is sort of high praise. In a way.
Wilson probably comes closest to explaining Dion's existence when he turns to her unrestrained sentimentality. And when he nearly concludes that she is beyond critical judgment. "Céline Dion," he writes, "is lousy music to make aesthetic judgments to, but might be excellent for having a first kiss, or burying your grandma, or breaking down in tears."
All but four of the 16 tracks on Taking Chances include the word love. In all, the l-word appears 54 times, not counting uses of lovers(three references)or loving(one reference). On the penultimate song, That's Just The Woman In Me, Dion outdoes herself, singing, Because I need, I need a man to love / Respect me, protect me, rule over, drool over / Run away to ivory towers, buy me a bunch of flowers and love. And then there's the stuff she cribbed from the latest issue of O magazine. Somebody told me once / You only get one chance / So live your life and do the best you can / Once a day goes by you never get it back, she sings on Can't Fight The Feelin'.
Which is to say that Céline Dion is completely without cynicism. And this is why anyone approaching her music with a cynical disposition is so hopelessly flustered. Shortly before Taking Chances was released, amid reports that it would include "radical departures" from her typical fare, Dion offered an oddly swaggering pre-emptive defence of herself. "If no one is pushing my songs, that's fine. If my fans don't like what I'm doing, I'm sorry. But I'm enjoying my life. I feel like I'm at Splash Mountain." Odd as it is to compare oneself to a Walt Disney World ride that involves chasing Brer Rabbit down Chick-a-pin Hill on a log flume, it is an apt summation of Dion's art. There is nothing less cynical than the universe of Mickey Mouse and friends. A place of princesses, fairies, mermaids and talking dogs. Where it's okay to sing "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" without concern for the terrible racism implied therein.
The vast majority of human civilization is not generally disposed to unconditionally accept such a philosophy. The critic is, as the job title conveniently indicates, critical. Dion's default position, on the other hand, is hopefulness. Bad things happen in her world(one particularly harrowing song on Taking Chances deals with spousal abuse). But redemption through empowerment and love is always possible. A happy ending almost always awaits.
If Céline Dion is, as that one reviewer noted, comfortably ignorant of the times, it is mostly in this regard. While Western society has spent the last couple of decades preparing for various apocalypses, Dion has relentlessly and lucratively stuck to the ideals of love. Loathing her music probably makes you feel smart. But adoring her probably makes you happier. And Dion, as she sings on the 10th track of her 10th record, is entirely more concerned with giving you a world to believe in.