Canadian-born Shania Twain is pretty much the ultimate example of the excesses of the 1990s country-pop phenomenon, and a sad harbinger of things to come. This wasn't just a touching-up or a glossing-over of old-fashioned steel-guitar music, it was a headlong dive into slick, glitzy, bombastic, melodramatic production that consciously pushed so far away from country's rural roots that it became an entirely different animal altogether. Like many modern Nashvillers, Twain started out country enough, but she sure left that twangy stuff far, far behind once the big ka-chingg sound started to drown it out. Yes, I know, obviously Twain is a very popular artist... Just not in my house. And here's why...
Shania Twain "Greatest Hits" (Mercury, 2004)
Aw, shucks... You know we love you, Shania... just wish you'd get back to recording actual country music again, sometime soon. Meanwhile, fans of your poppy stuff'll be thrilled by this spiffy little disc. It has four new songs, including the vaguely Gretchen Wilson-esque duet, vaguely fun "Party For Two," which was the first single... But there's an awful lot of pop on here. Oh, well. Can't please everybody all of the time, can ya?
Eileen Shania Twain "The Complete Limelight Sessions" (Limelight, 2001)
It's funny how Shania's career has come full circle, as we can hear in these super-cheesy, independently produced, demo-tape-y synth-pop tunes, recorded in the late 1980s, when it seemed her greatest aspiration was to be the next Tiffany or Sheena Easton. Well, a decade or so later, that dream came true, as the post-millennial Twain returned to her prefab pop roots. Anyone who thought Shania had "sold out" by "going pop" owes it to themselves to check out these early tracks, where nary a twang is to be heard. It ain't country, but then again, neither is she.
Shania Twain "The First Time... For The Last Time" (Renaissance, 2009)
More early demos from the Limelight sessions... two discs worth!
Shania Twain "Shania Twain" (Mercury, 1993)
(Produced by Harold Shedd & Norro Wilson)
It's hard to believe, looking back at it now, how relatively down-to-earth Shania was back when she was starting out. But here's the evidence - Twain singing fairly uncomplicated, unpretentious pop-tinged country, with echoes of Tanya Tucker and Barbara Mandrell cropping up in her modest vocals. This isn't material that I would have guessed would be the foundation for a career as a superstar, but clearly she had enough of what it takes to make it big in Music City. There is one emotionally moving song on here, "When He Leaves You," (and comes back to Shania), a cautionary tale addressed to The Other Woman. The other interesting track is a little bit kookier: "God Ain't Gonna Getcha For That," wherein the line dancing Twain urges a shy, socially repressed Ned Flanders religious type to loosen up and enjoy the company of the opposite sex, or at least get out on the floor and dance. Sure seems like a goofy premise for a pop song, although I guess in certain circles such things are still being debated. Not a bad record; certainly worth checking out if you want to try and figure out why folks once considered the now-unlistenable Shania to be a "country" artist. (Funny footnote: the booklet inside included a pronounciation guide for her name: "pronounced 'shu - NYE - uh' " Haw!)
Shania Twain "The Woman In Me" (Mercury, 1995)
(Produced by John "Mutt" Lange)
A slick, but still plausibly "country" album, with plenty of popped-up tunes tailor-made for boot-scooting line dances. There are also a couple of leaden ballads, but the more upbeat numbers still have a bluesy, hillbilly edge to them, albeit filtered through an '80s-ish, Judds-y pop production style. At least the production isn't so gigantic and overblown that it drowns out her voice... which is what would happen just a few years later. She's still worth a spin here.
Shania Twain "Come On Over" (Mercury, 1997)
(Produced by "Mutt" Lange)
"Over..." as in, "cross over," one would assume. Twain and producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange go whole-hog into pure pop territory, albiet at times a little too far, as on the album's second track, "Holdin' On To Love," which is way too rock and roll (and not a good song, either...) to really fit into the pop-country mould. They swiftly rebound with tightly-crafted, fiddle-laced fusion wonders such as "Love Gets Me Every Time," and the wordy, '90s-speak line dance, "Don't Be Stupid," which demonstrate the clever possibilities of Lange's slick production tricks. The album is uneven, though, bogged down by would-be soul ballads, and Twain's incredibly vapid lyrics. Still, her absolute willingness to be a shameless pop whore opens interesting possibilities for Twain, and Lange, when held a little in check, is a real studio whiz. She should stick to having other people write her material, but the production formula definitely works when it's in full swing.
Shania Twain "Up!" (Warner, 2002)
The concept (or conceit) of Twain's sort-of double album is either quite cynical or remarkably honest, depending on your point of view. In short, she's released the same album thrice, in one "Red" pop disc, then another "Green" country version, and finally a "Blue" "world version". The vocal and backing tracks are identical; all that's different is the choice of tacky instrumental ornamentations -- a fiddle & pedal steel here, or a cheesy New Wave-ish synth riff and generic electric guitar fill there? Post-1990s Nashville has gone so far into N'Sync-ish pop territory that neither version is that far apart from the other; all Twain has done is point out the by-the-numbers nature of the modern music business. Nobody actually performs a song anymore, they just have studio engineers assemble them like tinker-toys or prefab tract houses. At any rate, this isn't my cup of tea... I like real, good, old-fashioned hard country -- Hank, Hank, Hank, George, Webb and Loretta -- and this glossy pop stuff, though obviously all the rage, simply has no soul.
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