Friday, October 28, 2011

The Pop Version Of Up! Does Exactly What It Claims!

The Good: Good lyrics, Good vocals, Duration
The Bad: Some obvious rhymes/repetitive quality to some lines.
The Basics: A reasonably good, if thoroughly unchallenging, pop-rock album, the pop version of Up! allows Shania Twain to surrender to her desire to be a pop star without any pretense of Country.

There is something amusing about Shania Twain's attempt to straddle the Country and Pop music worlds and it is nowhere better epitomized by her album Up! Up! is available in three forms - a pop version, a country version (reviewed here!) and a two-disc set that has both albums together. The funny thing about it, though, is that all that differentiates the Pop and Country versions of Up! is the production and truth be told, the vocals, lyrics and instrumentals even make for a far better pop album than Country one. As a result, the pop mixes of Up! actually make for a far better album than the country ones.

Where the Country version of the album is plagued by inconsistencies with what one expects from a country album, the pop version is exactly what one would figure they were getting from a pop album. The songs are catchy, have a bassline to dance to and sound remarkably mainstream. This is both a selling point and the only real detraction of the pop version of Up! The album is produced such that it sounds like it could be virtually any musical artist or performer presenting the work.

With nineteen songs occupying a full 72:55, Up! is an ambitious use of the compact disc medium and a decent example of the talents of singer-songwriter Shania Twain and producer-songwriter Robert John Lange. Twain and Lange have been working together for years and Lange's producing is largely what creates the Country Mix of Up! (as well as the pop mix of the same). Together, Twain and Lange wrote all nineteen songs on Up! Twain performs all of the primary vocals and Lange does all of the producing. Neither one plays any instruments on this album, but it does seem to be their creative vision.

Here, though, Twain and Lange seem to be in a bit of a creative rut. Up! is a pop album, dominated by electric guitars and keyboards with little imagination instrumentally. Thematically, the album is pure pop without any regard - outside, possibly, the reference to "She praises the Lord" in "She's Not Just A Pretty Face." Songs like "Up!" and "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!" are the archetypal pop-rock songs with oft-repeated lyrics that insinuate themselves into the listener's subconscious and leave little overall impression. Still, Twain gets a lot of credit for the lyrics which have some interesting twists, especially on "Nah!" The album is written to be smarter than most pop albums.

Largely, though, Up! is an upbeat album that is danceable and has memorable tunes to it. It is dominated by the drums, keyboards and guitars. The bass is heavy on songs like "Waiter! Bring Me Water!" but otherwise, the album is lighter, enthusiastic and filled with recognizable (once one has heard them) melodies and catchy jingles. Songs like "Nah!" and "Ka-Ching!" which could thematically be worked into a more Country sound are presented here as upbeat pop numbers that work very well, offering a higher lyrical standard for pop-rock artists who were radio-played at the time.

The vocals are lovely and Shania Twain has an amazing voice. She presents all of her lyrics with a straightforward, well-articulated vocals that are clear and enthusiastic. She is a mezzo-soprano and largely she stays in a comfortable range that is very listenable. One supposes that it helps that

Largely, Up! is a fun pop album that trades well on not being overly complicated. Songs like "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!" are repetitive and have obvious rhyme schemes like "I'm gonna getcha while I gotcha in sight / I'm gonna getcha if it takes all night / You can betcha by the time I say "go," you'll never say "no" / I'm gonna getcha, it's a matter of fact / I'm gonna getcha, don'tcha worry 'bout that / You can bet your bottom dollar, in time you're gonna be mine / Just like I should - I'll getcha good . . . I'm gonna getcha baby I'm gonna knock on wood / I'm gonna getcha somehow honey yeah, I'm gonna make it good." This is hardly amazing poetry and the simplicity of the rhymes suggests Twain wants listeners to simply shut off their brains and dance and for that, the song works.

But not all of the album is simple. I have been continually impressed by the way Twain worked out the lines to "Nah!" The song interestingly explores the breakup of a relationship and the way Twain mixes a doctor's visit with the desire to get called by the ex works wonderfully. Indeed, it is more clever than most of her contemporaries in pop music the way Twain writes "You won't find me / Naked and cold justa sittin' / On the doctor's table / Waitin' to be told justa why / I'm no longer able / To feel my heart beatin'-- / Give me a good reason why! / I kinda went numb just around / About the time you told me / You were movin' on, and you / Said that you were gonna phone me / It's been so long, and there / Ain't nothin' wrong with the line" ("Nah!"). Treating the relationship like something that can be deconstructed and repaired is heartbreaking, but Twain presents it with a decent sense of irony as well as pathos.

And most of the songs on Up! are love songs. These range from the songs about losing love ("It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing") to the somewhat mindless pop tracks that simply repeat the idea of what love is. So, for example, on "Ain't No Particular Way" Twain writes and sings "Love has a way to find ya / Sneaks up right behind ya / There ain't no particular way / You don't know when it's gonna / Come runnin' 'round the corner" and the idea that love is all around us is simple stated and not explored with any real depth. This, however, is more par for the course than a real disappointment for listeners of pop music.

For anyone looking for a reasonably good pop album, one with generally better lyrics than those sung by, say, Britney Spears, then the pop version of Up! is very much the way to go. Despite the repetitive quality to many of the songs, they are danceable and fun and pop has a tendency to be fun. The ballads are sufficiently direct and emotive to sell those songs as well, making for a fairly good balance on the album.

The best song on this album is "Nah!" and the low point is the mediocre pop presentation of "Juanita."

For other Shania Twain album reviews, please visit my reviews of:
Shania Twain
The Woman In Me
Come On Over
Greatest Hits


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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