Shania Twain Rises From the Ashes on Comeback Album ‘Now': Review
Shania Twain’s life is about to get good.
Fifteen years removed from her last album, 2002’s Up!, the queen of pop-country unleashes a boldly-reflective, shimmering collection of evocative confessionals, updated empowerment anthems and some of her gutsiest songwriting to-date. With the chains of ex-husband and former producer Mutt Lange left to rust on the floor, Now, anchored with the breezy, shake-it-off lead single “Life’s About to Get Good,” sees Twain finally find her footing again. She slyly blends modern reincarnations of retro-rock and bellowing soul with her trusty pop craftsmanship.
Now (out September 29) feels as modern as you would expect a Twain album to feel in 2017: There’s plenty of face-melting theatricality, hearkening to the dazzling threadlines which piece together her impressive catalog of hits. Not only snagging a co-writing credit on all sixteen songs, she takes a turn in the producer’s chair, along with a bevy of genre-benders—from Ron Aniello (Bruce Springsteen, Gavin DeGraw) and Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Norah Jones) to Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes), Dan Book (Britney Spears, Hilary Duff) and Matthew Koma (Kelly Clarkson, LMFAO). Thematically, Twain not only screams her lungs out in the aftermath of personal tragedy—Lange had a sordid love affair with Twain’s best friend, leading to their marriage falling apart in 2010—but she often grabs a bottle of wine, curls up and cries right onto paper. “I’m going to be OK,” she convinces herself on the album’s pivotal about-face, climbing out of the anguish and back into the sunlight on “I’m Alright.”
“It was really just all about me speaking everything that was in my heart and mind,” Twain told Rolling Stone about the record. Now is as much a kiss-off to Lange as it is a love letter to herself; there is rarely bitterness coloring her phrasing. Instead, she states her emotions as plain-spoken, understated fact. No matter the damage that has been done, she lays her demons to rest, rising from the ashes renewed in mind, body and spirit.
Below, we walk through the album track-by-track, dissecting the lyrics, messages and musical influences.
“Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed”
Conjuring up the barn-burning style of previous hits like “Any Man of Mine” and “Man! I Feel Like a Woman,” she gets listeners’ toes wet for the album’s massive stylistic breadth. The warm, enveloping opener quickly shifts into reggae-flavored pop, slinking between house and arena-rock. “Fear disappears each time I close my eyes,” she reports, taking a moment to revel in just how good her life is these days and feeling the freedom on her lips.
Plucky banjo and acoustic guitar bubble up through the breathy, piano-twinkling arrangement, and Twain sets about reinventing the pop/country hybrid while tipping her hat to her roots but continuing to flex her genre-less capabilities. “I’m coming home,” she chants as the song blasts into a bluegrass hoe-down. “I’m one of those lucky ones who prays for rain and down it comes,” she later admits, a consideration of not only her personal life but her triumphant return to music.
“Light of My Life”
Twain expresses her adoration through a sequence of melancholic guitar licks, a darkly-lit minor key melody and a somber delivery. “I am not afraid to give my heart, even though you don’t even know I exist,” she pleads to an unnamed suitor. Also referencing American Beauty, she steps staunchly and eagerly into a voyeuristic role: she sets her sights on a lover and cunningly crafts a plan of attack. He might not know it yet, but he’s about to be struck by Cupid’s arrow.
A flip of the switch, she lapses back into her sorrow. “Still can’t believe he’d leave me to love her,” she flounders in unshakable feelings of pride, envy and regret. Once she confronts her misery and then relapses back into the desolate abyss—while also crafting a clever pun (“Pour me another,” she retorts on the chorus)—she musters up the strength to bury the pain. From the stormy electric guitar to the ghoulish background vocals pulling you in, “Poor Me” signals one of the album’s more riveting moments.
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“Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl”
Twain pulls back the bombast for an intimate, tear-soaked gallop on “Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl.” The slick gloss serves as a counterbalance to the rather toxic narrative: she confesses she’ll “keep the light on” in her heart just in case her ex realizes the err of his ways. Heartbreak can send you caterwauling in all directions, and that universality is the glue of Now, bolstered by raw, honest storytelling. “You down the fire / It burns a hole deep inside you / Feels so cold / I walk the wire, and it falls away,” she wrestles, slowly but surely coming to terms with reality.
The plunk of ivory and one scorching guitar line make this a jazzy, destined-for-Broadway number. She tugs the arrangement along behind her, turning attention from playtime to cool the burn of heartbreak. “No need to hurry / Morning is such a long way away / And we, we got all night to play,” she teases with a wink. She might not be able to heal her pain just yet, but she can surely escape for a fun night out on the town.
Once the haze of “More Fun” wears off, she comes face-to-face with her truth. “You let me go / You had to have her / You told me slow / I died faster,” she exposes, peeling back the layers of who she was and who she could be. “I’m Alright” is laced with bleakness but as soon things come undone, she is able to arrive at a place of acceptance. It’s the turning point for the album, setting the stage for where she is capable to go next.
“Let’s Kiss and Makeup”
Who says Twain can’t do tropical house? Flavored with a mariachi horn section and breezy finger-snaps, she concocts a true island fantasy. “Don’t wait another minute / Let’s go with this / Kiss me and let’s makeup now,” she murmurs into a tidal wave of vocal distortion and tribal-bent throbs.
“Where Do You Think You’re Going”
In an unexpected musical swerve, Twain trades up for a piano ballad—a smoldering, orchestral piece which Nancy Sinatra could have recorded. “No one loves you quite like I do,” she coos, smoke curling around her lips. The tune conjures up vestiges of classic ‘40s and ‘50s jazz clubs and sequined evening gloves. As the arrangement grows, so do the lyrics, climaxing with one of Twain’s finest stanzas: “I wish you the best / Oh, I hope you have it all / If you should fall from grace, I’ll be waiting at the bottom for you…”
“Roll Me on the River”
Turning up on the final act of the album, Twain goes for broke. Mixing a slinky, blues-style stomp, the tear of violin and gospel-smothered inflections, the singer delivers her most musically-adventurous composition of the bunch. “Listen to me closer / When I need your ear, you don’t need to say a thing, just be here / Wake me with your wishes, chase me like a star,” she details of her wayward journey. Before you know it, you are lost in a stunning cinematic adventure.
“We Got Something They Don’t”
Adele’s “Water Under the Bridge” an unwitting stylistic touchstone, Twain strengthens her artistic bravery on this one. Amidst the infectious clang of percussion and the jarringly energized horns, she seems to be on fire, sweetly taking on the world. The instruments are as integral to Twain’s new-found spirit as ever and only inject her vocal with even more rapt precision: “Here’s to hanging tough when no one believed in us / Cheers to staying strong / They gave up / But we carried on.”
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“Because of You”
She has now relinquished her past, and so, she turns to pen a love song about her current beau, Frédéric Thiébaud. The arrangement is light and airy, crisply drawn by a lone acoustic guitar and the soft brush of drums. “I’m independent to a fault / I know this well / But I finally found love without losing myself,” she whispers on the opening verse. “I’m so much happier sharing my life / All of the good things and bad things alike / I’m not afraid of the truth / I’m not me without you.”
“You Can’t Buy Love”
As if a B-side from the cinema classic Footloose, right down to the rollicking underpinning, Twain lingers on the beachy camp of doo-wop groups on “You Can’t Buy Love.” The layering of background vocals tightens the song’s sunny disposition. “Don’t let a bad day get to you,” she advises. Later, the hook soaks in gooey optimism: “You can’t buy love but you can make it.” Context is everything, and while the production is a bit saccharine, witnessing Twain just have fun is rather satisfying.
“Life’s About to Get Good”
Having listened through the album numerous times, “Life’s About to Get Good” is an apt summation of the overall arc: willingly reliving every devastating detail only to absorb the shock and come out victorious. It is certainly worthy of being the lead single, both stylistically and thematically. “It hurts to heal,” she confesses just before the final chorus break.
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The mood takes one more hard left before it’s all said and done. Built on stark piano and a gentle orchestral build, she sings to a soldier who is “just trying to get home” after having been in combat for far too long. “I need to see your face,” she weeps. “Soldier” is among the finest showcases for Twain’s emotive and vocal abilities and leaves you drained, emotionally.
“All in All”
Twain climbs up to the mountaintop, where “heaven looked me in the eye,” to take one last Polaroid of her life. “I’m still myself but I’ve changed / Things I thought were always strange aren’t that strange at all,” she muses. A blanket of drum loops, piano and guitar wash behind her, painting a breathtaking view. She’ll be just fine: “Afraid to jump, but had to try / Exhaled and said goodbye,” she sings, closing this chapter of her life and bookending her tumultuous journey with hope in her heart.
Fall 2017 Album Lineup: