Thursday, October 6, 2011

It May Be Considered An Audacious Crossover, But Come On Over Is More Average Pop.

The Good: Good vocals, Some decent lyrics, Some memorable instrumentals, Overall production.
The Bad: Some thematic monotony, Some singsong lyrics
The Basics: Leaping from Country to pop, Shania Twain broke through to the mainstream fully with Come On Over, which is an easy album to listen to and enjoy.

The nice thing about broadening one's horizons is that they can grow and overcome their preconceptions about a given topic or idea. I have, for example, loathed Country music following the pop-breakthrough success of Billy Ray Cyrus's Achy Breaky Heart. It opened up the pop-rock charts to Country music songs in a way that made virtually every emerging Country artist want mainstream pop success the way Cyrus had. Arguably the Country artist who benefited the most from this phenomenon was Shania Twain.

Twain, my female Artist Of The Month, impressed me with her album The Woman In Me (reviewed here!). Twain seems to have capitalized on her looks, sass and the public's willingness to accept Country music anywhere in the country. Of course, it is not hard to believe that Twain would be able to launch a successful career on the pop charts; she defied the obvious stereotypes of the Country music star and she sang pop songs that bore little resemblance to those of many traditional Country artists, at least the classic ones. Her album, Come On Over was a huge crossover success as her legions of Country music fans made it an instant success and radio airplay on Top 40 stations and VH-1 airplay of videos like the one for "That Don't Impress Me Much" led to extraordinary sales and a mainstream mass culture celebrity. Looked at now, though, it is almost tough to see why; the novelty of the crossover artist aside, much of Come On Over is remarkably average pop-rock music.

With sixteen songs occupying over an hour on the compact disc, Come On Over reaffirms the strength of the artistic pairing of Shania Twain and Robert John Lange (sorry, I refuse to call him "Mutt" the way I refused to write anything about Libbey calling him "Scooter"). "Shania Twain," the recording artist appears to be the title for the vocals and half the writing of Shania Twain along with the production and half the writing talents of Lange. Twain performs almost all of the primary vocals - "From This Moment On" is a duet with Bryan White - and Lange produced the album. Neither played any of the instruments on the album, but the pair co-wrote every song.

So, this does seem very much like it is the musical vision of Shania Twain and it is largely good. In this version of Country music, there are limited story-songs, more setups for singing about love or musical explorations of emotions. Come On Over is preoccupied with love as half the songs are directly about love and attraction. Twain tries some thematic diversity with songs about women having fun on a girl's night out ("Man! I Feel Like A Woman!"), leaving abusive relations ("Black Eyes, Blue Tears"), and a surprisingly metaconscious view of the album itself ("Rock This Country!"). Still, having the album on high replay for days becomes quickly tiresome as there is a thematic unity where love creeps into so many of the songs that it is irksome.

As well, much of Come On Over is surprisingly simple pop-rock with few nods to Country. Country, in our times, seems to be harder to define than it once was. There are few musical storysongs like the classic Country/folk tradition. Even the more obvious instrumental changes - use of violins (fiddles) and/or the pedal steel - are minimized on this album. I understand there is a specific rhythm pattern for Country music, but there are no obvious hoe-down type songs on this album that clearly separate these songs from pop-rock for listeners. In many ways, it is more pop than it is country.

So, for example, "I'm Holding Onto Love (To Save My Life)" is a pure pop number where at least three guitars drown out the pedal steel and make a song that needed less reworking for the pop charts than Twain's hit "That Don't Impress Me Much." The title track is a drum-dominated pop track that seems only considered remotely Country by the presence of fiddles (I originally guessed accordions). Similarly, "Love Gets Me Every Time" is a pop-Country number where the vocals have a slight twang of a Western/Country accent which seems to connote "I'm still Country!" "When" does not even have those musical or vocal pretenses.

The point here is that Come On Over is a very traditional or obvious late-'90's pop album and on that level it works. Twain precedes the Blonde Revolution with songs that have strong vocals that illustrate her obvious talents as a writer and singer. Songs like "When" have her illustrating just how powerful her lungs are. In addition to singing in the soprano range, she holds notes for decent stretches. She has wonderful lung capacity and she is able to show it quite well on that song. Her vocal abilities are flexed by illustrating powerful longing in her voice - not just the lyrics - on "From This Moment On." She also has a decent ability to sing fast and still emote, as she does on "That Don't Impress Me Much."

In fact, there are very few places where Twain's vocals are not immaculate. She sounds strangely bored as she sings "Whatever You Do! Don't!" The song, which has a pretty hypnotic, lilting melody is plagued by a set of singsong rhymes like "You got my heart under attack / You give me shivers down my back / D'ya have to walk the way you do? / I get weak just watchin' you / Whatever you do... / Don't even think about it! / Don't go and get me started! / Don't you dare drive me crazy! / Don't do that to me baby" ("Whatever You Do! Don't!") which tire the listener pretty quickly. In fact, it is entirely possible that with the simplicity of the lyrics Twain simply sleepsings her way through the song.

Unfortunately for listeners and Twain, the somewhat obvious rhymes are not limited to one or two songs. While "When" has a wonderful sense of irony to it, its rhymes are troublingly predictable for anyone who was raised on pop music. Even "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!" has some pretty obvious rhymes, which start the album off with some very low pop expectations. Twain mixes it up on "If You Want To Touch Her, Ask!" when she combines "If you wanna get to know her / Really get inside her mind / If you wanna move in closer / Take it slow, yeah take your time / You must start from the heart and then / If you wanna touch her / Really wanna touch her / If you wanna touch her, ask!" Here the lines are sufficiently complicated and presented with such a delicious sense of irony and humor that it is easy to overlook the few obvious word choices.

The album is not anywhere near all duds, though! Come On Over entertains with songs like "Honey, I'm Home" and the daily tragedies that befall the musical protagonist on that song. As well, Twain has a perfect song about longing, love and gratitude with "You're Still The One" and she maintains her projected persona of a strong, independent woman on "Black Eyes, Blue Tears." That later song, one of the few on the album that was not an overplayed hit on the pop stations, explores a woman standing up for herself. Twain empowers women by singing "I'd rather die standing / Than live on my knees / Begging please-no more / Black eyes-I don't need 'em / Blue tears-gimme freedom / Black eyes-all behind me / Blue tears'll never find me now / Definitely found my self esteem / Finally-I'm forever free to dream" ("Black Eyes, Blue Tears"). My partner - who has gotten me into Shania Twain's music - has told me of several country artists who were ridiculed for singing songs about child abuse, so I am unsure how the Country demographic appreciated "Black Eyes, Blue Tears," but from a mainstream feminist perspective, it is a worthwhile song.

Predictable rhymes aside, Come On Over is a fun album and as such, it is very easy to recommend. But it is important to know what one is getting into and this is much more a pop album than it is anything resembling Country. This is good for those who do not - traditionally - enjoy Country, but might be a detraction for those who do. And as far as pop goes, it is a little better-than-average.

It was actually too tough to pick a "best song" on this album - many of the radio-played tracks are indicative of the overall quality of the album - but the song that impressed me least was "Rock This Country!"

For other former Artist Of The Month artists, please check out my reviews of:
Break Every Rule - Tina Turner
The Singles Collection (boxed set) - Britney Spears
Album 1700 - Peter, Paul And Mary


For other music reviews, please 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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