Review Summary: A crossover masterwork that music fans will be listening to for some time in the future.
When culture confessions turns to the awkwardly named and hardly relevant term “pop-country,” inevitably the discussion circulates around two points: Shania Twain
and Faith Hill
. Certainly the terrain has become increasingly complex with modern singer-songwriters exploring the intersections of melodic pop, indie rock, and Americana in a way that blurs the distinctions between all of them.
The sound that Shania Twain made within the context of Dolly Parton
wouldn’t seem anywhere near as fresh and interesting today as it did in 1990. But that’s history, that’s the way things work. The development of any genre or sound needs its pioneers, it needs focal points listeners can hold onto and examine as they figure out what’s going on (and if they like it). Unfortunately this also means that worthy contributors to the growth and popularization of “the sound” can be unfairly overlooked. Part curtains, turn on spotlight, enter to new Twain's album, "Now".
And these are powerful songs. They are also pure emotional songs. While Twain may have once found life to be sweet, "Now" seems to say maybe life ain’t so sweet. Album opener “Swingin' With My Eyes Closed” is a story of lost love adorned by banjo guitar and Shania's strong voice and a quiet electric guitar solo. “More Fun,” one of the more upbeat song on the album, starts with an expansive guitar run and pounding drums before settling down to let Shania drown our sorrows in her voice. The song is really a perfect hybrid of her early Americana work and the grandiose vision of her later solo work.
The real power on "Now" are the gentle semi-ballads. “Light of My Life” is all quiet heartbreak. “Now” is disappointment set to a shuffling beat. “Soldier” rises to a mid-tempo pace floating on a horn and piano while Twain sings about benders not taken and ways to escape what clings to the insides of our heads. The sole performance on the album of more Alanis Morisette-y
“We Got Something They Don't” has Shania belting out the lyrics with passion. It’s a powerful testament to where she’s been. “You Can't Buy Love” is what country star’s semi-hit “I'm Alright” could have been if it hadn’t been polished to such a perfect 80’s pop gleam.
There isn’t a bad song on "Now". In a perfect world this album will pop up on a number of end of year top 10 lists. But as it is Shania's body of modern work will have to settle for being recognized as the best pop-country/Americana record to come out so far this decade. It’s a welcome return to form for one of the best voices working in any genre.