Monday, October 31, 2011

I Suppose She Always Wanted To Be A Pop Star, Eilleen Shania Twain's Beginnings (1989-1990).

The Good: Vocals, Production. . . I suppose
The Bad: Bland pop-rock, Some truly terrible lyrics, Short.
The Basics: Obvious, poorly-written and not utilizing the vocal skills of the artist, Eilleen Shania Twain failed to break out with Beginnings.

Sometimes, there is something pretty wonderful about coming across an artist later in their career than what might be considered their peak. Such is as it is with me and my exploration of Shania Twain, my October co-Artist Of The Month. I'm not big on the hype of any artist and I pretty much avoided Twain during what might now be considered her heyday (she never actually has to produce anything more to remain rich beyond most of our dreams). So, in going back and studying her works I was very surprised when my library managed to get in Beginnings (1989 - 1990) by Eilleen Shania Twain. And popping it in to listen to it and review it, I was pretty psyched; this was not an album mined over by virtually everyone else in the music-listening world! It does, however, confirm some of my suspicions about Shania Twain.

It is worth noting at the outset that there are two versions of Eilleen Shania Twain's Beginnings. This release, from Jomato Records, is a twelve-track album and according to the liner notes was leased special to make money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Kid's Cafe/Second Harvest, though Twain's actual participation in the album is limited. It appears a company leased the Limelight recordings, pressed the c.d. with no real involvement from Twain. This becomes somewhat interesting in reading the liner notes where Twain's original producer, Paul Sabu, makes such dubious comments as "The time I spent with Eilleen was special to me. She was, and I suppose still is, a kind, sweet, gracious, and thankful woman . . ." It's the "I suppose still is" that makes me think Twain might not be terribly involved in this project. All but one of the songs on this album are on The Complete Limelight Sessions, which I suppose does not live up to its name then. There is a virtually identical Beginnings that is missing two of the tracks. So, if one feels they absolutely must have Beginnings, this is the version to get, as opposed to the ten-track version.

But, there is little reason to pick up Beginnings, even to help a charity out. This is one of the most generic pop-rock albums I have heard in some time and it is not recognizable as the works of Shania Twain for those who are simply looking for more by her. Her Country music fans especially will be deeply disappointed by how this work is such a departure from all that came after. As an unknown, Eilleen Shania Twain was looking to become the next Pat Benatar or one-woman version of The Bangles. She failed and went a different route to superstardom.

With a dozen tracks (eleven songs, one which is repeated with a marginally different mix) Beginnings (1989 - 1990) occupies a paltry 44:47 and is a very bland, overproduced pop-rock album that illustrates some early talent from Eilleen Twain. Twain wrote all but two of the songs, with her presenting two different versions of "For The Love Of Him" and a cover of "Half Breed," which was popularized by Cher. To her credit, Twain performs all of the lead vocals and most of the backing vocals. She does not, however, play any of the instruments and she was not at all involved in the production of the album.

Beginnings is pure pop-rock without any real hint of Country or even the pop-Country that Twain later became associated with. "Wild And Wicked" opens with almost the identical instrumental riffs as Melissa Etheridge's "Bring Me Some Water" and "(Don't Gimme That) Once Over" borrows instrumental and vocal bits from the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," down to the fact that Paul Sabu backs her with his clearly male vocals to support her! The derivative quality continues on "Hate To Love," though for the love of all that is good, I cannot place why that song sounds so familiar to me right now.

But this is pretty generic guitar and keyboard-driven pop-rock with no real spark. So, for example, on "Half Breed," there is no character, no sense of the wrenching pain caused by the type of racism the musical protagonist sings about. And instrumentally, it does not hold a candle to Cher's version which had a force to it this version lacks. The generic and unmemorable becomes unfortunately laughable when Twain presents her song "LUV Eyes," though, which promotes dumbspeak and is so sugary-pop that it is likely to make fans of decent music anywhere cringe. The overall sound of Beginnings is very '80's pop and Twain actually nails the sound spot-on. She could have been big, like any number of women trying to sound like Madonna at that time (I'm thinking "Hate To Love" sounds like that era Madonna).

Twain hints at her range on Beginnings, though she seems much more committed to sounding tough than sounding good. As a result, she works in the lower range of her ability, seldom venturing into her soprano range. Instead, she keeps her notes generally short and low, like on "Send It With Love," where the Madonna analogy holds vocally as well as with her instrumental backing.

But Twain's writing abilities make it clear why she was not a success at this point in her career. Songs like "LUV Eyes" are so bad that one imagines a teenage girl scrawling the poetry in the margins of her spiral-bound notebooks at school. Indeed, it is hard to believe that such a powerful adult sex symbol emerged when she used to write lines like "This friend of mine, he looks real good / He drives a fast car and lives in Hollywood / He treats me like his little sis' [yeah, that made me cringe!] / I gotta let him know I want more than this . . . / I got L-U-V eyes looking at you / I got a B-I-G heart made for two / You could feel the same if you only knew / I got L-U-V eyes looking at you" ("LUV eyes"). One wonders what Lange saw in lines like that that made him say "yeah, I'd love to work with her!"

I suppose some of the lyrics are more mature, though most do focus on nervous, young ideas of love. Twain is plagued by a very basic sense of rhyming, which comes across in virtually all of her songs. While she has a sense of fun when she is being ridiculous on songs like "Rhythm Made Me Do It," the rest of her songs have an earnest quality that is somewhere between painful and laughable. Indeed, even the thought of Twain today cannot sell listeners on the value of her rhymes "Yeah I run straight home I got a hot date tonight, yeah / I got a chilled champagne for dinner by candle light / He's gonna be here soon and everything will be alright (sic) / I get a call, Guess who's on the other line / I can't make it tonight, Can we do it another time yeah / Oh the nerve, I'd like to give him a piece of my mind" ("Bite My Lip").

I suppose the best track is the straightforward rock of "Wild And Wicked," but the low point is such a tough call between so many of the remaining tracks.

For other Shania Twain album reviews, please visit my reviews of:
Shania Twain
The Woman In Me
Come On Over
Up! (Country mixes)
Up! (Pop Mixes)
Greatest Hits


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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