This is going to be a short review, simply because what Now gets right and what Now gets wrong is glaringly obvious.
What it gets right: the songwriting. Shania Twain’s ability as a writer has always been underrated, primarily because she chose to write escapist music. The economy of her lyrics has always been top notch, and it’s overlooked just how difficult that is to do. She’s able to capture simple truths and make them rhyme.
Now that she’s baring her soul, that same talent results in painfully honest lyrics that still adhere to the simplicity that she’s known for. Her hurt is palpable on songs like “Poor Me” and “Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl.” Her signature optimism is still there, too, but it’s with a weariness that a positive attitude isn’t always enough. “Life’s About to Get Good” and “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed” have bright sentiments, but are clearly being expressed by someone who just spent a long time in the darkness.
I do believe everyone would be talking about her brilliant and intimate new album as an artistic achievement if not for what Now gets so terribly wrong. All of the vulnerability and accessibility established by her writing is undermined by horrifically awful production and layers of vocal processing. Shania wrote words that needed to be Red Headed Stranger but was put through The Incredible Machine instead. This would’ve been a phenomenal country album, especially if she’d reunited with Alison Krauss to put it together. Hell, it could’ve been a great pop album if it took its cues from ABBA or Adele. Instead, we have industrial noise throughout until the very last track.
“Soldier” closes out the album, and it’s just Shania and a piano for a good chunk of it. Was there nobody in the studio who noticed how much better that sounded? The approach that would’ve made this set shine was right in front of them.
Shania Twain can really sing and she’s even better as a writer. It’s a sin that her talents have been hidden away on her own record. The songs on Now rank among her finest compositions. They’re complex, revealing, and often poignant. They deserved far better treatment than this muddled mess they’ve been given.
Recommended Tracks: “Poor Me,” “Soldier,” “Life’s About to Get Good”