Twain Leaves Her Mark
Her New Album, Come on Over offers insights into the real Shania
Shania Twain is a tough act to follow. Even for Shania Twain. Twain's last album, 1995's The Woman in Me, became the best-selling album in history by a female country artist, and spawned eight hit singles in the last two years.
So what do you do for an encore? The answer, Come On Over, hit record stores on Nov. 4, although a single, Love Cets Me Every Time, has been on the airwaves since September. The 16-song Come On Over includes everything from a lush duet with young crooner Bryan White to punchy pop-influenced sounds reminiscent of the hit (If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here.
Like The Woman in Me, Come On Over features only originals by Twain and husband/producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange. And Lange, who gave The Woman in Me its distinctive rock-crossover flavour, has turned up the heat on the new release to give it an even edgier feel.
Surprisingly, Twain, 32, said she felt little pressure to duplicate the success of her previous album.
"I know a lot of people are saying, 'Is this going to be a bigger album?' But from a songwriting point of view and from a natural growth point of view as an artist, I think it's a better album. And that's what's important to me," she said.
"Obviously, it's the goal of everyone who works with these types of things to outsell yourself. But quite honestly, my goal is much more to outdo the quality. Besides, I'm not sure how realistic it is to plan on selling a certain number of records. Looking at the history of many successful artists, it just depends on what's going on at the time."
Instead, Twain said she and Lange concentrated on material that reflected her own sensibility, both lyrically and musically.
"The Woman in Me had a few songs that really seemed to grab the listeners' attention songs like Any Man of Mine and and (If You're Not In It for Love) I'm Outta Here. People seemed to like hearing my perspective from a woman's point of view and they seemed to like a sense of humour, so it seemed natural to continue on with that," Twain said.
"I actually felt a sense of freedom with this album, because I felt, 'Well, they obviously relate to the way I think.' This Album, Come On Over, is very very much the way I really think. I really felt that the fans gave me the ticket to go ahead and be myself."
Musically, Come On Over ranges further from traditional country sounds than did The Woman in Me. That too is part of the evolutionary process, Twain said.
"It was kind of natural to broaden the spectrum because there are so many songs on the album," she said.
Much of Come On Over's rockier feel comes from the fact that classic country instruments, like the pedal steel and fiddle, are used in unusual ways. "Right from the beginning, I wanted to use four or five fiddles on parts that Mutt would normally use a guitar on. And Mutt does tend to write a lot of rock-style guitar riffs; I always thought it would be cool to use fiddles on those licks. I guess it's just a mixture of our backgrounds and how we influence each other," she said.
In addition, Twain says she thinks Come On Over contains some of her strongest songwriting to date.
"The subject matter on this album is a lot deeper, in the sense that even though I may add a sense of humour to the songs, they're about real situations that might be ugly."
A case in point is Don't Be Stupid (You Know I Love You), a song that sounds like it's built around a throwaway line until you realize it's about a self-reliant woman dealing with a jealous, possessive male. Another is If You Want to Touch Her, Ask!, whose theme is self-evident. In an even more serious vein, Twain and Lange wrote Black Eyes, Blue Tears, the triumphant song of a woman who has left an abusive relationship.
One thing Twain has yet to write about is her own life story; but maybe that's just as well it's the kind of story that usually starts with the words, "Once upon a time" and ends, "And they lived happily ever after." Twain grew up in Timmins, Ont., about 800 kilometres north of Toronto, the adopted daughter of Jerry and Sharon Twain. Money was not abundant. Kids - Shania is one of five children - and love were. As a teenager, she sang with several bands in Timmins, and spent summers working with her dad on a reforestation crew in the bush. When she graduated from high school, she started to pursue a career in music - a pursuit that was given a terrible urgency when both her parents were killed in a collision with a logging truck in 1987.
Twain, then 21, threw herself into singing full-time at Deerhurst Lodge in Huntsville north of Toronto and raising three younger siblings. It wasn't until they left home that she was able to concentrate on her career agam. Things happened quickly after that. A 1991 showcase led to a meeting with Nashville record-industry officials and a demo tape. By the next year, Twain had signed to the Mercury label in Nashville and in 1993, her self-titled debut album was released to relatively little fanfare.
But another Fan Fair - the one in Nashville - introduced her to renowned rock producer "Mutt" Lange, who had worked with Bryan Adams and Def Leppard. By the end of 1993, she and Lange were married and making beautiful music together. The resulting CD, released in 1995, made country-music history. Eight hit singles. More than 12 million sales worldwide. Just about the only thing that Twain didn't do in the wake of The Woman in Me was set concert attendance records. In fact, she didn't tour at all.
Twain says a tour is definitely in the works for Come On Over. "We'll go into rehearsals in January and if all goes well, we'll be starting to tour in May," she said. "I'd love to start sooner, because I'm ready - I have two albums, and I'm satisfied I have enough to headline a show - but I have to obviously take the time to put the show together."
In the meantime, Twain has hired a new management team: Jon Landau, who also manages Bruce Springsteen, and Barbara Carr.
"They really had a strong and obvious respect for what I had accomplished to that point," Twain said, "as opposed to saying, 'I know how I can turn your career around for you.' They didn't want to reinvent my career."
Is there any significance to the fact that Landau has a rock rather than a country background?
"No," Twain saia thoughtfully. "I just went for the best - that was all."
Twain's upcoming tour promises to be a blockbuster, says music-industry veteran Larry LeBlanc, Canadian editor for Billboard magazine. "Because we haven't seen her perform, some people expect her to fall on her face," LeBlanc said.
"It's not going to happen. She's going to explode. Those people (Landau and Carr) aren't just selective - they're transelective.
"They wouldn't have taken her on uniess they saw the full picture." Sheila Hamilton, executive director of the Canadian Country Music Association, agrees with LeBlanc's assessment of Twain.
"In Canada she has been and continues to be a benchmark. And one of the nice things about it is the fact that she is still pretty proud to be a Canadian, and we're proud of her."
Twain's success has already had an important effect on country music, LeBlanc says.
"(With The Woman in Me) they made a landmark album that in many ways revolutionized a portion of country music," he said. "She is going to deliver big time with this album.
"There are people who get alarmed about her sound - she is NOT the death of country music. She's young, she's talented, she's incredibly vibrant. She has probably attracted more people into country music that never would have listened to it before."
(Lucinda Chodan is an editor at The Montreal Gazette.)
By Lucinda Chodan, Country, Nov/Dec 97 cover