ARTIST OF THE MONTH: SHANIA TWAIN | THE WOMAN IN ME (DIAMOND ANNIVERSARY EDITION (1995)
Nov. 17, 1997, was a historic day for Shania Twain and country music: It was on that date, 25 years ago today, that the singer's sophomore album, "The Woman in Me," was certified diamond, signifying sales of more than 10 million units. "The Woman in Me" became the first record by a female artist to sell more than 10 million units. The album spawned six No. 1 hits and sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. Twain wrote or co-wrote every song but one on the album with her then-husband, producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, who wrote the chart-topping hit "You Win My Love" by himself. Shania Twain’s "The Woman in Me" is one of the most influential albums in country music history.
"Come On Over" was such a massive hit that its success has overshadowed its predecessor. But at the time, "The Woman in Me" had a seismic impact on the country music landscape as a whole, and on female artists in particular. Except for the accompanying article, this package demonstrates that it understands the historical importance of the album, documenting the entire era quite thoroughly and including bonus audio that is often revelatory. I won’t discuss the album properly at length, as its content should be familiar to readers. But hearing it remastered and in sequence, I’m reminded of what a singular achievement it was upon release. Twain’s debut album had its charms, but the production was dated, and her songwriting talent wasn’t showcased. "The Woman in Me" derived its impact from her point of view, which was relentlessly pro-woman. The belly button and come hither stares were just there to throw men off the scent. She spoke directly to women the entire time, and while her delivery was sometimes tongue-in-cheek, her insistence on being treated with respect never wavered.
Twain wasn’t the first loudly independent woman to find success in Nashville. She was the crest of an entire wave of them that dominated the genre in the nineties. But it was, "The Woman in Me" marked the clear turning point for how women would present themselves moving forward, as Twain ultimately rejected the “victim queen” trope that even vanguard artists like Rosanne Cash often relied upon. That was the real impact of "The Woman in Me." The women making the music were already sophisticated and educated independent women, and Twain’s breakthrough set created more space to express that lived reality in their music and their visual image. In addition to the core album sounding fantastic in its remastered form, the collection fills another two discs with related content. Disc Two, "Live & Remixed," collects all of the domestic and international remixes of the album’s big hits, some of which were created after "Come On Over" broke Twain as an international artist. Recent and vintage live performances of the album’s impacts are also included, some dating back to her first national tour and others culled from her Vegas residency. Early attempts at crossover are also included, which strip the original recordings of steel guitar and banjo.
The revelatory inclusion is Disc Three, which reimagines "The Woman in Me" as something of a hybrid between Twain’s debut album and the final version of this one. Producer “Mutt” Lange went for a Wall of Sound-style production, which I’ve always described as marrying a pop sense of structure to country instrumentation. The “Shania Vocal Mix” approach puts Twain’s vocals back up front, showcasing her strength as a singer. It’s remarkable how she sounds like the Shania from her first album. Some of the songs benefit from this approach more, but collectively, they are a fascinating listen. Hearing these songs from a fresh perspective after twenty-five years is a reward. The packaging is also stunning, featuring commentary from Twain, full lyrics and credits for all tracks, and beautiful photographs from the album’s cycle. There’s even a gallery of single covers and stills from the accompanying music video clips. There’s also a lengthy essay, which I love in theory, as it should be the standard for such a project. But Eva Barlow’s piece strikes the only discordant note. She presents "The Woman in Me" as a pop album that was unique in its empowerment of women in country music and is blithely dismissive of the genre and Twain’s pivotal role in it, describing her as a “trojan horse” who showed that women could use country music as their vehicle for conquering pop.
"The Woman in Me" sold nine million copies in the United States solely through the country market. It didn’t contain a single crossover hit. Yes, she became a pop superstar, but that wasn’t with this album. "The Woman in Me" reaching those sales heights was all the more impressive because she did it within the limitations of being a female country artist. That clunker of an essay aside, I can’t recommend this package highly enough. I want to supply all of the labels in Nashville with a master list of albums that deserve the same treatment. This is the respect that all of the great country albums from this era should be treated with. Country music matters and the albums that defined its most significant commercial and creative achievement era should be thoroughly documented.