Oh god. I keep taking so long in between installments of The People’s Albums that it’s hard for me to know when I’ll ever complete this journey through the best selling albums in the U.S. Guess my only goal is to finish it before I die or before we eventually lose interest in writing for this blog (whichever happens first). I know I’d have to do another one of these bonus installments in order to round it out to an even 50 before starting on the top ten, but maybe I’ll figure out a way to weasel my way out of another bonus entry since I really need to get started on that top 10.
Album: Falling Into You
Artist: Celine Dion
Release Date: March 11, 1996
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 11.8 Million
Why Was This Popular?
Because America Is Not As Cool As It Thinks It Is
One thing I’ve found while making my way through the best-selling albums ever is that despite how much it seems to be valued in pop music overall, coolness is overrated. Or at least when you really want to make music that reaches into that upper stratosphere of albums that everyone will want to listen to. Sure, there are best-selling albums where coolness and mass appeal will cross over, like Purple Rain, Appetite For Destruction, and the albums of Led Zeppelin. But even with those, their coolness could undoubtedly be called into question by how popular they are. But if you want to look at any argument for why being cool has little correlation to blockbuster music sales, a good place to start is Celine Dion.
Of course, I am not the first music snob to point out how cool or not cool Celine Dion’s music is and how that affects its quality, as Carl Wilson’s entry in the 33 1/3 series tackles this very same dilemma in regard to Falling Into You’s follow-up album, Let’s Talk About Love. In a retrospective interview with Pitchfork, Wilson talked about how the idea of taste in regard to broadly appealing pop music vs. rock-ist music critics now seem to be built on a faulty premise. It’s born out of this very Gen X, pre-internet approach to music criticism that is based on a certain set of biases toward what constitutes “good” music. It’s also probably not a stretch to say that what is often used to constitute “good” music was often tied to what was considered “cool” music. And of course, with the way music is consumed in regards to the “anything goes” approach of listening to music on the internet, these distinctions have become less valuable.
That’s all to say that if I was writing about this album 10 or 15 years ago, I would probably be unequivocally shitting on it. Though probably quite poorly, because I was a bad writer 10 or 15 years ago, as you can plainly see if you venture into the easily available archives of this very site. But now, as the mindset towards how narrowly we should define “good” or “bad” music has loosened, I feel far less inclined to shit on Celine Dion. This isn’t necessarily because she’s been reclaimed as one of the all-time great singers, but more because she does have at least a certain amount of admiration in the public eye that makes me think she doesn’t deserve to be completely scoffed at. After all, a film was released just this year that is basically her unofficial life story (which was not completely balked at critically) while it’s also hard to separate her music from the affinity a generation of women have for the movie Titanic.
Still, I’m not sure that the popularity of this album is born out of Celine Dion’s lasting appeal, as it appears that the bulk of the 12 million units sold in the U.S. of Falling Into You happened in the late ‘90s. Because my only real memories of Celine Dion during the ‘90s were related to “My Heart Will Go On”, it’s a little hard for me to pinpoint why Celine Dion was so popular even prior to the release of that song. However, one thing that seems apparent was that the general idea of “the diva” was very big in popular music in the ‘90s, which feels most consequentially established by Whitney Houston and the idea that audiences would fall for big soapy ballads being belted out by a big boisterous voice. So in that regard, it’s not surprising that Celine Dion would become so popular when her songs are often the biggest, soapiest ballads and her big voice tends to over-affect them as if her life depends on it.
I know, this sounds like I’m disparaging Celine Dion, but clearly there is something massively appealing about Celine Dion’s voice, which I honestly don’t have that big of a problem with. It must be affecting to a wide swath of people because her appeal reaches far beyond the U.S., which was not the first nation that she conquered. It must be pointed out that Dion started out recording albums in French due to her originally being from Quebec. Also, you have to hand it to her, she’s continued to be loyal to her home province, since after crossing over into the English-speaking market, she’s continued to record French-language albums, even as recently as 2016. It’s hard to think of another artist who’s sold as many records in the U.S. as she has whose second language is English. Do with that information what you will.
Did This Deserve To Be Popular?
I’m now realizing I still haven’t actually talked about any of the music on Falling Into You yet. Previous to listening to the album for the purposes of this piece, I wasn’t sure that I would actually be familiar with any of the music on it, but “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” instantly came back to me (now), as it’s apparently one of Celine Dion’s signature songs. “Because You Loved Me” also sounded familiar, perhaps because it bears such a striking resemblance to so many other power ballads from the ‘90s. Or maybe I happened to hear it in the background of my life somewhere that I can’t recall, but I can tell you for certain that I did not hear it on the soundtrack to the 1996 movie Up Close & Personal, which it was recorded for. Though apart from those two songs, that leaves about an hour’s worth of music on the album that was previously foreign to me.
Overall, I didn’t really hate listening to this album, but also not much of it really stuck out. This most likely has to do with it belonging to the then-burgeoning genre known as adult contemporary. “Adult contemporary” is one of the least evocative genre names I can think of, as really nothing in particular comes to mind when hearing it, and perhaps that’s the point. This is music with all of its contours and hard edges sanded off in the hope of not piercing anyone’s eardrums or exciting their nervous systems too much. That said, the blandness of this music lays more at the feet of the multitude of producers who worked on the album and less on Celine Dion herself, as the emotional brashness of her voice is often what keeps these songs even remotely compelling to listen to. Though the one writer/producer who worked on the album who’s hard to fault is Jim Steinman, whose only contribution is “It’s Still Coming Back To Me”, which conjures the same wonderfully corny bombast that guided another People’s Album, Bat Out of Hell.
As for the rest of the Falling Into You? Some of it’s fine, some of it’s incredibly dated, and some of it’s sincere enough to be moderately likable. My biggest problem is that this album really doesn’t need to be so damn long, but maybe that’s just all a part of Celine Dion’s inherent big-ness. I just really didn’t need to hear her belt her way through well-worn standards like “River Deep, Mountain High” or Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”. Also, by some strange coincidence this is the second People’s Album in a row that features a less famous version of “(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Women”. It’s hard to fault the ballads that Celine Dion tackles on the album, since that’s kind of her bread and butter, but on a song like “Declaration of Love” or “Your Light” where she’s trying to be funky or soulful or whatever the hell’s going on, it’s just kind of embarrassing.
Would I Pay Money For This?
Nah, but that’s ok. Celine Dion really doesn’t need my money. I’m sure she’s made a ton of it from her long-running string of Vegas shows, massive album sales, and being associated with one of the most successful movies of all time. So I don’t know that my lack of desire to ever spend money on her music will make much of a difference.
Next Time On The People’s Albums: And I know it’s gonna be a long, long time before I get around to writing the next one of these. But you can tell everybody, this is your album — it’s Elton John’s Greatest Hits.