While most critics are quick to cast stones at Celine Dion’s schmaltzy repertoire and over-the-top readings, the music industry is grateful she existed in 1997. Dion’s Columbia Records disc “Falling Into You” spent most of the year on the upper rungs of the album sales charts and has sent more than 25 million consumers into record stores. And while there, many of those record buyers probably picked up a disc or two from other artists. Dion’s latest, “Let’s Talk About Love,” which boasts a duet with Barbra Streisand, hovers near the top of the sales charts and as a result has spurred additional sales of “Falling” and further demonstrates her potent drawing power.

In contention: Dion’s biggest competition also hails from the Great White North. Sarah McLachlan, who masterminded the hugely successful Lilith Fair this summer, also scored with her “Surfacing” CD and has paved the way for other performers with strong feminine points of views, among which Paula Cole, Fiona Apple, Sheryl Crow and Shawn Colvin are four of the brightest lights in the femme circuit.

Critics’ Darlings

One-word wonders Beck and Jewel continued to grace magazine covers and were the subject of newspaper profiles in 1997, even though they didn’t release albums during the year. And why should they have? Their 1996 offerings, “Odelay” and “Pieces of You,” respectively, still are showing plenty of life. Jewel’s Atlantic Records disc has spent almost two years in the marketplace, with most of its 1997 tenure logged near the top of the album sales chart. And though Beck’s Grammy-winning Geffen Records album has dropped from its peak of No. 16, sales of the disc continue to remain brisk each week. He just wowed L.A. music fans with a blistering set at the annual KROQ Christmas bash, whetting industryites’ appetites for his next batch of musical-influence potluck. While Jewel is set to star in the next Ang Lee feature, Beck’s supporters are still hoping mainstream music fans will get hip in massive crossover numbers to Silverlake’s favorite son.

Pop Favorites

Fleetwood Mac proved in 1997 that you can go home again, as the ’70s supergroup staged a comeback that some thought would be a poor imitation of the Eagles reunion launched two years ago. But the band’s lineup (the same as the one behind the seminal “Rumours” disc) proved to be an attraction few wanted to miss, and the tour sold out every stop — even with a top ticket price of $125. It helped to be supported by a radio-embraced, top-notch Reprise Records album, “The Dance,” which boasted a mix of old favorites and three new cuts, and a rejuvenated Lindsey Buckingham who led the throngs of the faithful in the nightly two-hour love fest.

In contention: Teen pop idols Hanson are selling discs and time will tell if they’re the Monkees or Menudo. Spice Girls are in the crunch of bad PR, with sales of their latest CD falling short of expectations and an upcoming feature film that will be either”A Hard Day’s Night” or “Who’ll Stop the Music.” Puff Daddy made major chart moves in the wake of B.I.G.’s demise and Prodigy moved 2 million units of “Fat of the Land” before the “Smack My Bitch Up” controversy took them off the Wal-Mart shelves. Elton John’s Lady Di farewell — “ode to a dead blond,” as Keith Richard put it — broke all single records and again landed Captain Fantastic on page one.

Ruling Rockers

It wasn’t a presidential election year, but the Rolling Stones went on the road in 1997 anyway and launched an ambitious roadshow just months after U2 hit the concert trail. While the U2 roadshow got hammered in the press for a perceived lack of success — despite its eventual more than $100 million gross and the band’s take-home pay expected to be north of $35 million when the tour ends — the Stones got the benefit of the doubt from the launch press conference to the Soldier Field kickoff show. While the Stones’ Virgin Records disc “Bridges of Babylon” and U2’s Island Records “PopMart” both initially received tepid reactions from fans, the discs likely will cross into multiplatinum territory well before the end of their shelf lives.

In contention: Smashing Pumpkins jumped from alternative to arena status. Aerosmith is on the road again to solid auds, though the band’s latest CD isn’t setting the charts on fire. Pearl Jam is still MIA, Stone Temple Pilots lost Scott Weiland to lingerie and ennui. R.E.M. lost its drummer and, based on disappointing sales of its last CD outing, a portion of its fanatic fan base, but Stipe & Co. can’t be counted out of the picture.

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