Friday, February 3, 2023

Review: Queen of Me • Shania Twain


Shania Twain is at the forefront of my earliest pop culture memories: From the records to the music videos, she exuded both star power and humility in every move. She seemed unstoppable but approachable; witty but not snarky; carefree but not ignorant. These are all qualities that she aims to restore on Queen of Me, her sixth studio record and her second album since making a return to recording music after dysphonia and Lyme disease diagnoses benched her voice for a decade. While her last record, Now, set out with things to prove, this one has no worries on the horizon. On its cover, she’s sporting a cowboy hat on horseback – but beneath the Wild West surface, Shania dares to kick country music right over the fence… almost.

At one point in her career, Twain was in the business of redubbing her records to rewrite the reality of her songwriting between international pop markets and the rigid construct of domestic country music. The easy translation of songs like “That Don’t Impress Me Much” and “Forever and For Always” proved Twain’s underappreciated potential as a pop songwriter while pushing country music into the forefront of the pop conversation. On Queen of Me, however, country is almost an afterthought than the primary driver of the music. Sure, “Giddy Up!” has a great little two-step stomp and “Last Day of Summer,” the album’s lone ballad, has a fireside sing-songy way about it, but so many other cuts here are unabashed dance tracks that play it safe in a new genre for an artist once known to slice through Nashville with sharp one-liners and innovative sounds.

“Inhale/Exhale Air,” an on-the-nose appreciation for the literal act of breathing after an intense bout with COVID, has Shania written all over it, as does “Got It Good,” which is admittedly an improved rewrite atop the bones of “Not Just a Girl,” another song on the record that was imported from an earlier Netflix documentary. But then there’s a ton of material that feels like costume play: Lead single “Waking Up Dreaming” is an anthemic pop-rock karaoke session. On “Number One,” she embraces a gurgling bass line and ditches her own melodic staples in favor of a new collaborator’s penmanship: According to Twain’s interview with Zane Lowe, the top-line was written by Twain and Mutt Lange’s adult son, Eja.

With its high fashion photoshoots and extensive media blitz, Queen of Me was expected to gallop into the cultural forefront. And while it does paint the bright overtones that were missing on her last record back into Twain’s music, the album more or less trots into consciousness. It’s a fun record that perhaps pushes Twain furthest from her origin point, but in doing so, she ends up in a new league – one where she is among the most tame contributors rather than the boundary-shattering trendsetters. Where does that leave her? Somewhere between sounding like herself – quite literally, as her voice noticeably continues to recover from the Lyme disease damage – and simply enjoying herself, our expectations be damned. But hey, the best thing about being a woman is the prerogative to have a little fun, isn't it?

Queen of Me is available now under Republic Records.

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