It's Christmas in July for record retailers who just got word that Celine Dion will follow up her 7.3-million-selling "Let's Talk About Love" album and "My Heart Will Go On," the record-breaking hit from "Titanic," with a new album in the fall.
"These Are Special Times" will be an album of seasonal songs--half traditional and half new, including a duet with R. Kelly on one of the latter. And though it won't have a "Titanic" to help send sales into orbit, it will have a CBS-TV special.
The record joins a new Alanis Morissette album, a Garth Brooks live recording and a Mariah Carey collection of No. 1 hits as major lures for consumers.
"A Celine Dion Christmas album has a very good shot of being the No. 1 album of the season, not just of season music but overall," says Bob Bell, new music buyer for the Wherehouse chain. "After the 'Titanic' album and her album, she can do no wrong. It's exactly the kind of thing you need at Christmas time. It's looking like it could be a very good Christmas season."
It won't be a bad season either for the folks at Sony's 550 Records, the label for which Dion records. Still riding high on her previous album, they believe this is the perfect time for this project, which had been in discussion for years.
"It's always been one of the plans we've had for her--it was just a matter of timing," says Polly Anthony, president of Epic/550. "Our expectations are certainly healthy. And when it comes to Celine, she's pretty good at raising the bar herself. We don't have to do it for her."
Another attraction of a seasonal album is that it can sell every year as have such projects by Kenny G (whose "Miracles: the Christmas Album" has sold more than six million) and Mannheim Steamroller (with three seasonal collections totalling more than 13 million).
"These records are evergreens," says John Doelp, general manager of 550. "Barbra Streisand's seasonal album does well every year."
Recording of the album is still in the early stages, though another duet is also planned, this one with Italian pop-opera tenor Andrea Bocelli. Most of the work is expected to be completed before Dion embarks on a concert tour that starts Aug. 25 in Boston and concludes in December in her hometown of Montreal.
FIXING A HOLE: With a new album set for release in September and promotional appearances also booked (including a performance on the MTV Video Music Awards Sept. 10), Hole is finding itself with some uncertainty in its lineup. Drummer Patty Schemel, who joined the Courtney Love-led band in 1992, is on leave to deal with "personal problems," according to Geffen Records publicist Jim Merlis, who declined to elaborate on the nature of the problems.
With Schemel's status uncertain, the band auditioned drummers and picked a replacement, though whether on a temporary or permanent basis is not clear.
A change would leave Love and guitarist Eric Erlandson as the only band members remaining from the 1994 album "Live Through This." Bassist Kristen Pfaff died shortly after its release from a heroin overdose and was replaced by Melissa Auf Der Maur. Schemel and Pfaff joined Hole in 1992 when Love fired bassist Jill Emery and drummer Caroline Rue.
WHICH OL' WITCH: Actress Melissa Joan Hart didn't have to use one of her "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" spells to find herself on an album alongside the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys. Having a hit TV series with a big teen audience is magic enough. Hart, doing a version of Blondie's "One Way or Another" (produced by Richard Gottehrer, who produced Blondie's first two albums), is featured on an upcoming "soundtrack" album for her ABC series, to be released around the start of the new season in October.
Odds are, though, that more copies will be bought because of a previously unreleased Spice Girls track, "Walk of Life," and some selections from the Backstreet Boys, who made a guest appearance last season on a "battle of the bands" episode that also featured Hart's Blondie song.
Other new tracks for the DreamWorks album include Matthew Sweet doing Walter Egan's '70s hit "Magnet and Steel" with Lindsey Buckingham and Susanna Hoffs on background vocals, and previously released songs from Chumbawamba, Robyn, 'N Sync and Olive. Other new tracks are expected to be added soon.