Thursday, October 20, 2011

Short And Unremarkable, Shania Twain Is Distinctly (If Boring) Country Music.

The Good: Moments of voice, A few good lyrics
The Bad: SHORT, Somewhat obvious instrumentals, Mostly forgettable.
The Basics: Boring and unoriginal, Shania Twain is an unremarkable album that has Shania Twain trying to cover other artists as if she were Linda Rondstadt.

Before she was one of the all-time best-selling female artists (of any genre), Shania Twain was a Canadian with a dream of becoming a County music star. Her eponymous album is a short collection of songs that people more into Country music than I am tell me is chock full of Country music standards. The fundamental difference between the Shania Twain of Shania Twain and the current incarnation who has pretty much stormed the world with her music is that this Twain is distinctly country/inspirational and the lack of her writing/producing partner Robert John Lange.

Lange appears to have been the influence that made Twain break out; there is not a single song from Shania Twain on her Greatest Hits album. As I have often noted of many female pop-rock artists, there is a distinctive sound which instantly calls to mind one woman with a guitar at open mike night at a smoky club. The songs on Shania Twain, like "When He Leaves You" evoke an image in one's mind's eye of a woman at a small Nashville bar singing her heart out while people dance, walk around and drink. The songs have the net effect of being filler, background noise that is drown out by conversation, glasses clinking and pool balls smacking one another. In other words, there is little distinct or original on this album.

With only ten songs occupying 30:45, Shania Twain is a short album which is a poor use of the compact disc medium. The only reason to pick it up is to hear a bunch of songs that did not make the a-list (radio airplay or her Greatest Hits album). The songs are largely repetitive lyrically, bland instrumentally and derivative vocally. Twain performs her own vocals, but considering her range is used like other, more famous, artists, one wonders how much of her performance is even her own desired interpretation of the songs she performs. Twain only co-wrote a single song - "God Ain't Gonna Getcha For That" - and she plays no instruments on the album. As well, she is not involved in any aspect of the production of the album. All in all, Twain is easily able to divorce herself from this work and one suspects that she had little creative control over the album.

That said, Shania Twain is far more mediocre than it is bad. The songs are more bland, boring and generic than actually poorly performed or presented. But none of the songs have a particular spark and the net result is an album that falls flat, especially when one has it in high rotation. So, for example, the keyboards and synthesizers on "You Lay A Whole Lot Of Love On Me" are overbearing and drown out Twain's voice at parts. As well, those used to hearing Shania Twain carry the vocals on the majority of her songs are likely to be unpleasantly surprised by how overbearing some of the background vocals - like the male accompaniment in "You Lay A Whole Lot Of Love On Me" - are.

But for those looking for something Country, Shania Twain delivers that. The pedal steel, references to "two-stepping" and the twang in Twain's voice on songs like "Dance With The One That Brought You" are very much what one expects from Country music. Songs like "There Goes The Neighborhood" - which laments the fall of neighborhoods into poverty and divorce - and "Still Under The Weather" are very typical Country ballads and Twain performs them with the soulful drawl of one out on the prairie (or tundra, one supposes from the artwork on the album).

As for Twain's vocals, here one hopes that this was more the product of the studio's demands than Twain's wishes (which seems likely given how unlike her vocals her voice is on this album as opposed to every other one I have heard). Shania Twain has an amazing mezzo-soprano voice. There are very few moments on Shania Twain that she vocalizes using her natural voice and the high range that she is capable of and comfortable with using. She is compelled to sing lower on several songs and on "What Made You Say That" and "Crime Of The Century," the direction is clear. Shania Twain is being set up to be the new Linda Rondstadt. Twain's vocals - especially on those two songs - sound almost indistinguishable from those of Rondstadt, in fact even on her own song ("God Ain't Gonna Getcha For That") Twain sounds like she is in the Stone Ponies. It is one thing to sing outside one's range when it works for them, but on Shania Twain, the whole sound of her vocals is that of one extended Linda Rondstadt impersonation.

Lyrically, the songs are largely about relationships and living in the world (social observations). Songs like "Dance With The One That Brought You" are familiar and set forth country wisdom which is basically "stick with the one who will stick around." Variations on that, like "There Goes The Neighborhood" explores the consequences of the disintegration of relationships (basically the whole society crumbles, in this worldview). The songs are largely wholesome and inoffensive . . . and unmemorable.

In fact, the only real hint of the Shania Twain many people have grown to love is in the song she co-wrote. The defiance and eagerness to revise the absolutism of country mores is present only on "God Ain't Gonna Getcha For That." Twain sings lines like "Won't you let a lady buy you a cold brew / Loosen you up a little more than you dare to / Maybe take a ride in my Cadillac / God ain't gonna getcha for that / God ain't gonna getcha for that / He's much too busy with the guys in the black hats / There's nothin' wrong with a man and a woman flirtin' with a honky-tonk moon / God ain't gonna pay no attention / If we're just makin' use of his invention / Come on, baby don't hold back / God ain't gonna getcha for that" ("God Ain't Gonna Getcha For That") with enthusiasm and energy absent on most of the rest of the album. She pokes fun at traditional gender roles and the assertiveness of her vocals offers a glimpse into the Shania Twain of later albums.

But that peek is hardly worth hunting this album down for. Shania Twain is dull and hardly inspired. Instead, the listener is dragged along a listless course of mediocre interpretations of classic Country standards and that we can do without.

The best track is "God Ain't Gonna Getcha For That," the low point is "Forget Me."

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


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

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

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