Over the course of four albums released between 1993 and 2002, Shania Twain dominated radio charts, destroyed sales records, and busted pre-conceived notions about where pop and country overlap on the Venn diagram of genre. She was a leopard print-clad icon — and a great one at that. She finally returns this week with the triumphant new LP Now, still draped in spots and on the upside of a decade that witnessed major changes to her voice (due to a condition called dysphonia, which she attributes to Lyme disease and stress) and a headline-grabbing divorce from now-ex-husband and longtime producer, Mutt Lange.
The singer has been adamant in the walk-up to this release that Now is not a divorce record. She’s mostly right: While “Poor Me” seemingly alludes to the discovery of Lange’s affair with her best friend, Twain doesn’t spend the album mourning the end of a marriage; instead, the album’s 12 tracks (16 on the deluxe edition) celebrate a woman who, at 52, is finally coming back into her own. Case in point: She wrote every song by herself before enlisting producers like Ron Aniello (Bruce Springsteen) and Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran) for some studio polish — the ultimate middle finger to every naysayer who credited Lange with her success.
Twain’s newfound hear-me-roar attitude is all over the album. On the heartwarming lead single, “Life’s About to Get Good,” she bids goodbye to old scars: “Life’s about joy/ Life’s about pain/ It’s all about the forgiving and the will to walk away.” On the reggae-inflected album opener “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed,” she sings about chasing her bliss and living for the good times. Elsewhere, the understated “Because Of You” finds Twain — now married to the former husband of the woman Lange was having an affair with — opening up about letting love back into her life. “The most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard,” she sings over just a steady beat and an acoustic pluck, “is you breathing at night.”
Fans will certainly notice how different Twain’s vocals are post-dysphonia. Once an alto with a feathery-high register, she now sings with a deeper, flatter instrument. The album closer, “All in All,” makes the new limitations of her voice apparent, but more often than not, the changes are transfixing. Twain has been through a lot over the years, and the blunt, weathered qualities of her voice only make her anthems about survival more affecting and more potent, especially on tracks like the heartache-filled “Poor Me.” Those who would disparage her for not sounding like the “old Shania” are missing the point of this album — and with songs this good, they’re missing out, too.
“I’m Alright”: A banner ode to keeping your chin up
“Roll Me On The River”: Twain wants to rock out about all the things that make her feel good. Don’t overthink it, just join her.