Shania Twain Gets Real on Her Gutsy New Album Now
The country icon’s first full project in 15 years digs deep into her personal tragedy
By Chris Parton
September 28, 2017
Shania Twain returns to the public eye in striking confessional fashion this week. Her new album, Now, is a truly raw and revealing record from a pop-country icon, and one that invites fans inside her proverbial circle of trust. Now, a passion project born out of personal devastation and recovery, is only the fifth studio album of Twain’s career, and it’s been a long time coming. She’s been working on the project for at least four years, pushing back its release date many times as she sought to write every track alone, find a suitable production team and rehab her singing voice after it was nearly stolen by Lyme disease.
But what emerged marks a new chapter for the often-reclusive artist. Twain opens up with details about her high-profile divorce and its aftermath, embraces a silver lining and gives her signature sound a full makeover, aiming it toward both longtime fans and a new generation. It’s tempting to describe her new tunes as “soulful,” but the reality is that Twain’s music has never been this dark before, and that’s what makes it interesting. While tracks like the first single “Life’s About to Get Good” and its follow-up “Swinging With My Eyes Closed” are rooted in familiar positivity, it’s others like the deceptively titled “I’m Alright” that stand out for their brutal honesty. The song’s opening lines cut straight to the moment Twain’s ex-husband and former producer Robert “Mutt” Lange informed her of the affair he’d been having with Twain’s best friend:
“You let me go / You had to have her / You told me slow / I died faster / You said take care / Don’t be sad girl / Life’s not fair / It’s a mad world / But I’m not mad / I’ve already / Downed that pill.”
Likewise, the piano ballad “Where Do You Think You’re Going” is filled with conflicting emotions and delivered in a raspy voice that conjures memories of tragic soul-pop star Amy Winehouse. Delicate, vulnerable and challenging all at once, it seems to live in limbo between disbelief and acceptance. “In case you never look back,” Twain begins, “I want you to know that / You were loved like mad / I hope you live long enough / To change your mind.”
But while the breakup details are sharp — and juicy — elsewhere Twain’s resiliency shines. She sounds downright relieved in the bouncy “Home Now,” and the quirky groover “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” shows that she hasn’t given up on love. (Since 2011, Twain has been married to Swiss businessman Frédéric Thiébaud, who was previously married to the aforementioned former best friend.)
All throughout the 12 songs (16 on Now’s deluxe edition), Twain toys with one new sound after another. She co-produced with a team of four non-country studio guides — Ron Aniello, Jake Gosling, Jacquire King and Matthew Koma — working to pair elements of her massive mid-’90s hits with country’s new-school diversity.
The opening strains of “Swinging With My Eyes Closed,” for example, will remind many of “Any Man of Mine,” and that’s probably why it was chosen as the second single. Meanwhile, the fiddles and stomp-clap country-rock motif Twain used to perfection back in the day return for cameos throughout the album. But for better or worse, it’s the infusion of electropop, Euro-club beats and even slow-burning dancehall reggae that define Twain’s new sound.
If that seems out of character, just remember that this is what put Twain on the map in the first place: combining the trendy with the tried-and-true. Even so, there will likely be plenty of armchair criticism aimed at the sonic approach, as well as the lack of huge, instant-classic hooks — as if those were easy to come by. But there’s nothing left for the singer to achieve commercially, and that doesn’t appear to be what Twain is going for with Now. The days of selling 40 million copies of an album like Come On Over are long gone anyway, so mark this as a legendary artist looking to prove her own creative worth — to herself as much as anyone else.
Still, it’s hard not to measure anything new Twain does against the monumental success of her past. She set the bar for pop in pop country, and sent the genre on the path of expansion it still follows today. But the format has moved on since her time in the spotlight, and an entire generation has passed — seriously, it’s been 20 years.
It would be folly to compare Now to her early work. Instead, think of this as an artist without much to gain, who’s always been sensitive to the spotlight, stepping up to share something deeply personal. Like it or not, that takes guts.