The Woman in Me: Diamond Anniversary Edition
Shania Twain’s The Woman in Me is one of the most significant albums in country music history, and the three-disc deluxe anniversary edition of the landmark album sets a new high bar within the genre for such collections.
Come On Over was such a gargantuan hit that its success has overshadowed its predecessor. But at the time, The Woman in Me had a seismic impact on the country music landscape as a whole, and for female artists in particular. With the exception of the accompanying article, this package demonstrates that it understands the historical importance of the album, documenting the entire era quite thoroughly and including bonus audio that is often revelatory.
I won’t discuss the album proper at length, as its content should be quite familiar to readers. But hearing it remastered and in sequence, I’m reminded of what a singular achievement in was upon release. Twain’s debut album had its charms, but the production was dated and her songwriting talent wasn’t showcased. The Woman in Me derived its impact from her point of view, which was relentlessly pro-woman. The belly button and come hither stares were just there to throw men off the scent. She was speaking directly to women the entire time, and while her delivery was sometimes tongue-in-cheek, her insistence at being treated with respect never wavered.
Twain wasn’t the first loudly independent woman to find success in Nashville. In fact, she was the crest of an entire wave of them that dominated the genre in the nineties. But it was The Woman in Me that marked the clear turning point for how women would present themselves moving forward, as Twain completely rejected the “victim queen” trope that even vanguard artists like Rosanne Cash often relied upon.
That was the real impact of The Woman in Me. The women making the music were already sophisticated and educated independent women, and Twain’s breakthrough set created more space for them to express that lived reality in their music and their visual image.
In addition to the core album sounding fantastic in its remastered form, the collection fills another two discs with related content. Disc Two, Live & Remixed, collects all of the domestic and international remixes of the album’s big hits, some of which were created after Come On Over broke Twain as an international artist. Both recent and vintage live performances of the album’s hits are also included, some dating back to her first national tour and others culled from her Vegas residency. Early attempts at crossover are also included, which just strip the original recordings of steel guitar and banjo.
The revelatory inclusion is Disc Three, which reimagines The Woman in Me as something of a hybrid between Twain’s debut album and the final version of this one. Producer “Mutt” Lange went for a Wall of Sound-style production, which I’ve always described as marrying a pop sense of structure to country instrumentation. The “Shania Vocal Mix” approach puts Twain’s vocals back up front, showcasing her strength as a singer. It’s remarkable how much she sounds like the Shania from her first album. Some of the songs benefit from this approach more, but collectively, they are a fascinating listen. Hearing these songs from a fresh perspective after twenty-five years is a reward in itself.
The packaging is also stunning, featuring commentary from Twain, full lyrics and credits for all of the tracks, and beautiful photographs from the album’s cycle. There’s even a gallery of single covers and stills from the accompanying music video clips. There’s also a lengthy essay, which I love in theory, as it should be the standard for such a project.
But Eva Barlow’s piece strikes the only discordant note. She presents The Woman in Me as a pop album that was unique in its empowerment of women in country music, and is blithely dismissive of the genre and Twain’s pivotal role in it, describing her as a “trojan horse” who showed that women could use country music as their vehicle for conquering pop. That minimizes the role of women who came before Twain, despite name-checking Olivia Newton-John and Dolly Parton. And it completely misrepresents what was going on in country music when The Woman in Me hit.
Barlow presents Reba McEntire as being the only woman who had gone triple platinum with a studio album at the time of the album’s release, which isn’t true. Mary Chapin Carpenter had also done so, and Wynonna’s self-titled debut had gone quadruple platinum right before The Woman in Me hit. As I wrote earlier, Twain was the crest of a wave, not the catalyst for it.
But I’m more frustrated by the minimization of Twain’s own achievement. The Woman in Me sold nine million copies in the United States solely through the country market. It didn’t contain a single crossover hit. Yes, she became a pop superstar, but that wasn’t with this album. The Woman in Me reaching those sales heights was all the more impressive because she did it within the limitations of being a female country artist.
That clunker of an essay aside, I can’t recommend this package highly enough. I’d like to supply all of the labels in Nashville with a master list of albums that deserve the same treatment. This is the respect that all of the great country albums from this era should be treated with. Country music matters, and the albums that defined its greatest era of commercial and creative achievement should all be documented this thoroughly.
This review focuses on the three-disc Deluxe Edition. Two disc and single vinyl editions are also available.