Now finds Twain coldly chasing trends rather than setting them.
Here’s an incomplete list of major events that have occurred and things that have been founded or invented since Shania Twain’s last studio album, Up!: the Iraq War begins and ends; social media platforms like Myspace, Twitter and Facebook shift culture; Hurricane Katrina; Spotify; the iPhone and the iPad; Android; the 2007-08 global financial crisis and subsequent Great Recession; President Barack Obama; the ACA; Hollingsworth v. Perry and Obergefell v. Hodges; Hurricane Sandy; ISIS; the 2014 Indian general election; the 2016 Deaths of Every Musician Ever; and President Donald Trump.
So yeah, 15 years is a long time. It’s even been newsworthy for Twain in the last decade-and-a-half. Her marriage to Robert “Mutt” Lange, also her longtime producer and songwriting partner, ended, and she almost lost the ability to sing from lesions on her vocal chords. After a Las Vegas residency in 2012 and a supposed farewell tour in 2015, we finally have a new album from the superstar. Tellingly named Now, it, much like her self-titled debut from 1993, stands out in her catalogue: it’s the only other record without Lange, and, at 41 minutes, it’s her shortest and most immediate release since then.
Maybe “sticks out” is a better description. The majority of Now is not country- or country-pop-based. It is a pop album, though. The choices of producers and songwriters – Ron Aniello, Jacquire King and Jake Gosling, among others – have seemingly steered Twain towards Top 40 trends, whereby tracks like “Poor Me” and “More Fun” more resemble thinly-veiled derivations of pop-EDM (read: they sound like songs the Chainsmokers would make) than anything on country radio. “I’m Alright” suffers for the same reason, but it’s only after a promising beginning that features twinkling acoustic guitars and a hint of sincerity.
It’s a shame, really, because there is some earnest fun to be found. Opener “Swingin’ with My Eyes Closed” has a swampy-meets-tropical feel to it with flippantly defiant lyrics (“Fist up in the air/ Roll like we don’t care”) and a helluva arena-ready chorus. Similarly, “We Got Something They Don’t” is a slinky little number and one of the record’s best songs, with strutting horns to match its believe-in-yourself message (“Here’s to hanging tough/ When no else believed in us”).
When Twain does recall her former glory – as on the summer-y ballad “Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl” and the blues-rocker “You Can’t Buy Love” – it’s bittersweet. Yes, it’s a pleasant several minutes with the Shania that made the genre-defining Come On Over, but they don’t fit the record. Now is catchy and has big hooks (as a capital-P Pop album should), but it lacks the effortless cool of “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” or the breeziness of “She’s Not Just a Pretty Face.” The result is that most of the album comes off as cynically calculated and overthought. Lange and Twain put a lot of care and thought into their songwriting, but the end result never felt like that. It’s not easy to create something as brilliant as “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” even if it appears otherwise. That’s because the pair never showed their work, only the result. Here, the goals are painfully clear; the stitches are showing.
As it stands, Now is best viewed as a transition album where Shania Twain uses recent tricks to stay relevant as a recording artist after such a protracted absence. Yet, give her credit for mounting a studio comeback at all. As evidenced by the warm reception to her Shania: Still the One shows and the Rock This Country Tour, she could’ve easily rested on past accomplishments into perpetuity. Instead, she took a gamble with a modern pop album that places the realization of its objective above anything else. Twain helped usher in country-pop, while simultaneously injecting arena rock into country, with three consecutive blockbuster albums. Fast-forward to today, and Now finds her coldly chasing trends rather than setting them.