ARTIST OF THE MONTH: SHANIA TWAIN | UP! (2002)
Pop + country = success, or at least in Shania Twain’s case, it certainly does. Her smash hit album, "Come on Over," saw over 35 million in sales and practically became affixed to every women’s mantelpiece. Record store owners probably had to hire more staff to compensate for the influx of zillions of fans – fans who mainly consist of women in their 30’s accompanied by their daughters and husbands, who share their own crush on Shania’s glamour. This being said, "Up!" isn’t as solid as her previous release, which showed that she could create an album where practically every song was to be a hit and also demonstrated that the country genre itself wasn’t to be confined within a set equation: weird song title, a clangy guitar track and heartbreaking lyrics. Her first release, "The Woman in Me," is perhaps her closest article to this formula, but since then, she has delicately brought more pop into her mix – and Up! is no exception.
The presence of sugary pop on the release is thanks to Robert Lange, both her producer and husband. A proficient songwriter, Lange has written for pop acts such as Britney Spears, The Corrs and the Backstreet Boys, making it no surprise that he is perhaps the godfather of many of Shania’s hits; after all, he is within the writing credits stapled within the liner notes. They couldn’t re-release Come on Over with a different album cover, so "Up!" comes with three red, green and blue discs, which are essentially different mixes of every song, pop, country and international, respectively. Lange had so much work cut out for him that he had to recruit the efforts of British-Asian producers, Simon and Diamond Duggal, to add the necessary character to the Blue disc. Irrespective of this inundation of audio, the album, for the most part, isn’t sonically or musically much different to "Come on Over," making it feel like a b-sides collection.
The style of production that outlines the edges reflects Lange’s other efforts with The Corrs 2000 release, In Blue. At times, there is a direct recognizable similarity between the two. While the production is well maintained and very clean, releasing three different mixes detracts from the album’s creative force. Each disc has its moments, but for many, it will be easier to keep the one in the car on the way to work rather than muddle between them during peak hours. Maybe Lange sensed that the album was a little too "samey" by itself, but to be completely truthful, musically, it would have done better with a gathering of songs from each mix rather than going balls out on all three. Even though this effect becomes cured after the second or third listen, flow is still not achieved, and you realize that you still have two mixes to go! Furthermore, the lack of standalone hits and the lack of complementing transitional tracks make the album drag on longer than it really should, making the 19 songs feel like 30.
In each song, though, there is one ingredient that Shania stays faithful to. That is, the lyrics are or appear to be designed to have the listener immerse themselves within. She does this and always has done it wonderfully well. It is also what makes her such a dominant force over the hearts of women when she sings romantically about love, relationships, or just life in general, in songs like “Waiter! Bring Me Water!,” Forever and for Always,” and “When You Kiss Me” – while at the same time having definitive energy towards the male listeners while she speaks of politeness, care and responsibility, particularly when girl-power anthems hit the ground running, such as “She’s not Just a Pretty Face” and In My Car (I’ll be the Driver),” Another addition to this is witnessed within universally accessible “Ka-Ching,” which is one of the more triumphant moments of the album. After being puzzled, thinking that your playlist has suddenly skipped to Pink Floyd’s “Money,” you’re left nodding your head in agreement with her wonderfully constructed lyrics about materialism.
This album appears to be transitional, a cross between the pop-country-orientated "Come on Over" and whatever was to come. There is no doubt that Shania poured her most incredible efforts into this album, but unfortunately, it appears that she and Lange went a little bit too far off the edge of the Earth in terms of musical content. Sure there are many great songs, carefully constructed from the success of "Come on Over" and placed into the cake mix of lolly pop production that Lange specializes in, but on the whole, "Up!" will not be as tremendous or as thoroughly enjoyable as her earlier work.