In the midst of Neil Young fever this week, I’ve been distracted by another Canadian musical superstar. While I was waiting for my useless computer to fire up this morning, I finished the last pages of “Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste”, a fascinating book by the Canadian music journalist, Carl Wilson.

In the midst of Neil Young fever this week, I’ve been distracted by another Canadian musical superstar. While I was waiting for my useless computer to fire up this morning, I finished the last pages of “Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste”, a fascinating book by the Canadian music journalist, Carl Wilson.

“Let’s Talk About Love” is part of the 33 And A Third series of books which grapple, in-depth, with various canonical albums. This one, though, is a little different, since its notional subject is a 1997 album by Celine Dion, of all people; the one with the theme song from “Titanic” on it, if you don’t have intimate knowledge of the sainted Celine’s back catalogue.

Wilson’s book isn’t just about Celine Dion, though; in fact, it’s hardly about Celine Dion at all. Instead, it’s an investigation about tastes, aesthetic judgments, prejudice, high and low art, cultural and social capital, and whether Wilson can somehow educate himself into becoming a Celine Dion fan – or at least empathise in a non-patronising way with her millions and millions of fans.

I’m normally a bit suspicious about music criticism that is fixated on analysing itself, the sort of stuff which goes into agonies about futurism and micro-genres and tortuous pissing battles between ‘rockists’ and ‘popists’. Without being militantly anti-academic, I quite like music writing which articulates whether the reviewer thinks a record is any good or not.

But Wilson manages to be constantly interesting and thought-provoking about the issue. He can write about Pierre Bourdieu and the sort of hardcore theorising that keeps cultural studies students busy, and make it accessible rather than daunting. He can dig into the Quebecois milieu which shaped Dion, and the motives of her fans, without ever sneering. He can even write about “The Reason” (the opening track of “Let’s Talk About Love” which was co-written by Carole King, produced by George Martin and featured Robbie McIntosh of The Pretenders) and make me want to hear it.

And I think he can teach us a few valuable things about music criticism, for what its worth. Wilson is very good at avoiding the temptations of kitsch and irony when he’s evaluating Dion’s work, and he’s pleasingly dismissive of the implicitly snobbish concept of “guilty pleasures”. Best of all, his book is a sophisticated polemic against the sort of music reviewing which, in lieu of having anything interesting to say about an artist, starts taking potshots at their fans instead. The most annoying thing to me that Uncut has published, in the mag or online, in the past year, was a review which said, essentially: if you don’t like Band X, you’re an idiot. I didn’t much like Band X, as it happened, and I could live without being insulted by someone who should have worked out how to write maturely by now.

I hopefully got over that my-taste-is-better-than-your-taste posturing at some point in my NME days. That said, I still believe that much of the best writing about music involves subjective thought trying to pass itself off as objective (so long as the writer is self-aware enough to avoid crude hyperbolic pronouncements), and I generally disagree with Wilson when he approves of personal narrative in reviews: I’ve always hated that “crying at bus-stops” school of writing.

I also think the book has one terrible flaw: Wilson goes to Las Vegas to see Dion’s show and talk to her fans, but somehow bottles out of talking to any of them. Instead, he finds interviewees through online communities – people who are no less infatuated with Dion, but aren’t necessarily typical of most of her discreet army of devotees.

Nevertheless, this one’s well worth reading. Wilson has a good blog, too, which you may wish to check out – Zoilus. Not that I’m going to tell you that you should, of course. . .