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Series targets hard-core music buffs

Las Vegas is giving Celine Dion back to the world, and the world may see her differently now.

The singer was set to deliver her final performance of “A New Day” on Saturday, and the show was so successful it’s easy to forget both Dion and Las Vegas once were punch lines for those who monitor pop culture.

The moving target that is Celine Dion fit well, if unexpectedly, into the plans of Canadian journalist Carl Wilson. His new book, “Let’s Talk About Love — A Journey to the End of Taste,” arrives just after the publicity blitz for the singer’s new album, “Taking Chances,” and her return to active competition in the pop arena.

“It feels like in some ways I’m participating in the Celine revival I was only imagining when I started this book,” Wilson says with a chuckle.

But Wilson’s book is a decidedly different take on the singer. It’s part of “33 1/3,” a boutique series aimed at hard-core music buffs, with each volume devoted to explorations of a single album.

Wilson’s is the first in which the author took on an album he didn’t like, for the purpose of “asking where our tastes come from in the first place. That’s something I’ve always been intrigued by.”

The book seriously explores the wide divide between mainstream pop that is mass-marketed and purchased, and the critics who usually sneer at it for those very reasons. It’s a heady work that examines everything from “reductive Marxist theories of culture” to why critics value restrained singing while “American Idol” fans embrace “show-offy” technical power.

It also takes an impartial look at what’s “cool” and who determines it. On the phone, Wilson digests that as being “all about how popular someone is with people in their teens and 20s, mostly with white and black people. Those two boxes are where pop culture currency tends to lie,” he notes.

“To then look around and go, ‘Oh, but what about the whole rest of the world?’ The needs of what people want out of pop culture aren’t as uniform as what the media tend to talk about.”

And while Wilson doesn’t draw a direct line to “A New Day” — in fact, he recounts having a terrible visit here to see the show — it seems obvious that Las Vegas addresses these wider needs as adroitly as most record labels.

Wilson isn’t too surprised by the positive reaction to Dion’s new album and the fact that she gradually became more confidently in charge of “A New Day.”

“She is bringing more restraint to it, that sort of thing. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing,” he says. “In some ways, do we need another sort of tasteful, middle-of-the-road singer or do we need another Celine, who always goes over the top?”

Mike Weatherford’s entertainment column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 383-0288 or e-mail him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com.

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