A change today from the heavy metal that’s been a large part of my listening in recent weeks, with the new and long-awaited album from Canadian country music star Shania Twain. “Now” is Twain’s first studio album in almost fifteen years since 2002’s “Up!” and the first since 1995’s “The Woman In Me” not to be co-written and produced by legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange.
The reason for Lange not being involved is pretty straightforward really. He and Twain married in late 1993, just six months after first meeting. In 2008 it was announced that the pair had split, with Lange reportedly having had an affair with Twain’s best friend Marie-Anne Thiebaud. In one of those you-couldn’t-make-it-up twists, the couple divorced in 2010 and Twain then married Thiebaud’s ex-husband Frédéric Thiebaud on New Year’s Day 2011! In the midst of all this Twain’s singing voice began to suffer, culminating in her being able to neither sing or even speak properly as a result of dysphonia (in this case said to be brought on by lyme disease). Naturally, then, Lange wasn’t involved in Twain’s new work.
A period of recuperation was therefore necessary before Twain made a comeback with a residency in Las Vegas before taking the step of making a new album. And drama aside, that’s what we’re interested in. Is the record as good as her past, hugely successful albums? I’ll admit that early signs weren’t good.
The single “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed”, a country / pop / reggae number has what I can only describe as a rather odd part at the end of each verse right before the chorus kicks in that still grates to my ears. Twain’s voice sounds strained in places, auto-tune / vocoder seems a little too obvious and (as my wife put it) there’s a “fiddle-dee-dee” bit that appears out of nowhere for no apparent reason that’s not quite in keeping with the rest of the song. Thank goodness the chorus is so strong and catchy!
The singer’s appearance at BBC Radio Two’s festival in a day recently at Hyde Park in London hadn’t helped. Playing a short set of just seven songs, she sang the refrain of “You’re Still The One” a cappella a couple of times between numbers, but the vocal sound changed very noticeably when the song itself was performed, strongly suggesting the use of pre-recorded vocals – likely not just on that one track either. The singing voice is still a problem live then, so what would that mean for the album. Would it turn out to be a disaster on the scale of Meat Loaf’s woeful “Braver Than We Are”?
The record begins with the aforementioned “Swingin’…” and I must say that it sounds a whole lot better on the stereo rather than the car radio! Twain’s records have never been pure country music in the traditional sense, with a great deal of pop sensibilities thrown in – especially on “Up!” and so it should come as no surprise that “Now” is a mature country pop (or more accurately pop country) album throughout.
In some ways it feels like a natural successor to the aforementioned “Up!”, but without the cynical marketing attempt (that album was released in three different mixes to try to appeal as far across the board as possible) and with a less feisty lyrical approach overall.
Much of the humour and zest of her previous songs has been replaced, on this long-player at least, by songs about self-empowerment and (despite Twain stating it’s not a divorce album) those clearly driven by heartbreak and betrayal, such as “I’m Alright” and other single “Life’s About To Get Good”.
I can’t honestly say that this album is as immediate as either “Come On Over” or “The Woman In Me”, but it is a very accomplished one and is likely to get played as regularly as “Up!” if not those two. Not one for those just interested in the big hits, perhaps, but this album as a whole can hold its own with her back catalogue. Despite the obvious vocal differences that have occurred during the intervening years Twain has an easy and natural style that suits the new material as well as it did those singalong hits of the past.
1. Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed / 2. Home Now / 3. Light Of My Life / 4. Poor Me / 5. Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl / 6. More Fun / 7. I’m Alright / 8. Let’s Kiss And Make Up / 9. Where Do You Think You’re Going / 10. Roll Me On The River / 11. We Got Something They Don’t / 12. Because Of You / 13. You Can’t Buy Love / 14. Life’s About To Get Good / 15. Soldier / 16. All In All