It’s been 15 years since Shania Twain released her Diamond-selling album Up! The country-pop queen spent the previous decade almost single-handedly changing the face and sound of country music to the delight of crossover fans and the ire of country purists. To say a lot has changed in the country music world in the last two decades is an understatement.
In the 90s and early aughts, Twain stood alongside Faith Hill, Martina McBride and the Dixie Chicks as a Billboard chart-topper. Today, the lack of women on country radio stands out as an unfortunate hallmark of the genre. Twain’s brassy country-pop feminist anthems have largely been replaced with the macho posturing of bro-country. A decade ago, Twain released two separate albums for Up! – one for country and one for pop audiences. Today, country and pop are practically interchangeable on country radio.
Twain’s latest album Now (released Sept. 29) finds the icon examining her life amid industry and personal shakeups. Twain wrote every song on the album herself following her tabloid-publicized 2008 divorce from producer Mutt Lange. She remarried in 2011. Much of the album is about perseverance and bouncing back from heartache.
On “Life’s About to Get Good,” Twain addresses overcoming the pain caused by her ex-husband’s infidelity. It’s the same irresistible optimism we’ve come to expect from Twain, but her vocals are lost in over-production.
Let’s face it, no staunch country traditionalist will be turning to Shania Twain as a barometer of the state of country music. But for many who grew up loving the pop-infused country of The Woman in Me, the return of Twain is a welcome one. While Twain’s dance beats once stood in contrast to the neo-traditionalist country of the early ’90s, throwback hits like “You Win My Love” would sound practically rootsy on today’s radio. Twain’s genre-bending paved the way for artists like Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini, who are representing today’s brand of country.
Those infectious pop hooks are still there on Now. “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed” fuses a reggae beat with a soaring fiddle courtesy of the Punch Brothers’ Gabe Witcher.
Twain stays positive with the funky, horn-laden “We Got Something They Don’t,” a standout track on the album.
Although Twain’s voice is as strong as ever, it’s noticeably lower. The singer battled Lyme disease, which caused vocal cord-damaging dysphonia.
Her grittier voice shines on the confessional number “Because of You.”
“I’m independent to a fault, I know this well,” Twain sings on the track. “But I finally found love without losing myself.”
Fans of classic Shania may miss the country element in the country-pop that Twain pioneered on The Woman in Me and Come On Over. Those albums expertly blended country and pop to create something wholly original. Now all too often feels more like pop music dressed up and called country.
But Twain built an empire on doing what she wants and that’s exactly what she does here. The reigning country-pop queen’s independent, fiery, unbreakable spirit remains intact. That’s one thing that remains the same – now and forever.
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