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Retro Single Reviews: Shania Twain, 2004-2012

After the enormous success of the Up! project, Shania Twain released a top-selling Greatest Hits album in 2004, which spawned three singles.  She then embarked on an extended hiatus before returning in 2011 with a new single and a reality series on The Oprah Winfrey Network.  In this set of retro single reviews, we'll take a look at Twain's six most recent single releases to date.

220px-Party_for_Two_shania_twain

“Party for Two” (with Billy Currington or Mark McGrath)
2004
Peak:  #7

The first single from Twain's Greatest Hits package was her last Top 10 country hit to date, but only the second Top 10 hit for her then-up-and-coming duet partner Billy Currington.  The premise is shamelessly silly, as are the spoken word intro and the “You'll be sexy in your socks” line, but Twain and Currington sell it with flair.  Twain delivers her verses with a flirty, playful performance, while Currington renders his with the same laid-back smolder that would become his calling card at country radio.

In the tradition of the Up! album, “Party for Two” was released in both a country and pop mix, with Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath appearing as Twain's duet partner on the latter.  Unfortunately, McGrath's performance lacks the character needed to sell a song of this ilk, and the gaudy pop arrangement has aged poorly in comparison to the country mix, demonstrating that Twain was often at her best when keeping a toe in country waters.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade (Currington version):  B+

Listen:  Party for Two (with Billy Currington)

Grade (McGrath version): B-

Listen:  Party for Two (with Mark McMcGrath)

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“Don't!”
2005
Peak:  #24

The soft, dobro-driven arrangement is the perfect fit for this angst-filled ballad.  Twain performs the song in an emotive almost-whisper of a delivery, while the evocative melody conveys regret and desperation with a tinge of hope.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade:  A-

Listen:  Don't!

Shania_Twain_I_Aint_No_Quitter

“I Ain't No Quitter”
2005
Peak:  #45

The third and final single from Twain's Greatest Hits fizzled due to lack of promotion.  Quite possibly Twain's countriest single since “No One Needs to Know,” “I Ain't No Quitter” lacks the lyrical cleverness of Twain's best work, but she elevates the song through her fun, laid-back performance.  Likewise, the bouncy, fiddle and steel drenched arrangement is a delight.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade:  B

Listen:  I Ain't No Quitter

Shania_Twain_Shoes

“Shoes”
2005
Peak:  #29

A rare instance in which Twain worked with a team of co-writers in addition to her then-husband, “Shoes” was written for inclusion on a Desperate Housewives companion album, but the boot-stomping fiddle-laden arrangement would have not have sounded out of place on The Woman In Me.

The lyric draws on a series of humorous double-entendres comparing men to footwear. (“Some make you feel ten feet tall, some make you feel so small, and some you want to leave out in the hall or make you feel like kickin' the wall”)  The concept is pure novelty, but Twain pulls it off brilliantly with a catchy everywoman-sing-along chorus and an in-on-the-joke vocal performance.

Written by Shania Twain, Robert Johnn “Mutt” Lange, Tammy Hyler, Joie Scott, and Kim Tribble

Grade:  B+

Listen:  Shoes

Shania Twain Today is Your Day

“Today Is Your Day”
2011
Peak:  #36

In the wake of Twain and Lange's divorce, “Today Is Your Day” was the first Twain single since the days of her debut album not to be produced by Lange.  Unfortunately, David Foster's production lacks the freshness and restraint of Lange's work, with a clutter of instruments distracting from Twain's performance instead of spotlighting it.

Twain's vocal exudes sincerity, vulnerability, and age-earned wisdom, but struggles to overcome the fact that the lyrics amount to little more than a string of inspirational clichés.  Add some unnecessary vocal processing on top of that, and Twain's comeback single falls greatly short of the event that it should have been.

Written by Shania Twain

Grade:  C+

Listen:  Today Is Your Day

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“Endless Love” (with Lionel Richie)
2012
Peak:  #12 (U.S. Adult Contemporary)

A remake of Richie's classic 1981 hit duet with Diana Ross, from his country duets project Tuskegee.  It starts out on a pleasant note, but gradually devolves into an overwrought shouting match that seems to go on forever as Richie and Twain attempt to force emotion into the song.

Written by Lionel Richie

Grade:  B-

Listen:  Endless Love (with Lionel Richie)

Previous:  It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, "It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing"

2004 | #18

Of all Shania Twain’s gifts as a singer-songwriter, her ability to tackle heartbreak may have been the most under-heralded.  That side of Twain was well showcased on several standout tracks from The Woman In Me,

but of all the nineteen tracks on the Up! album, there was only one sad song in the bunch.  But oh, what a beauty it was.

“It only hurts when I’m breathing
My heart only breaks when it’s beating
My dreams only die when I’m dreaming
So I hold my breath to forget”

That chorus is a straightforward, yet achingly effective portrayal of the emotional place in which one endeavors to move on after heartbreak, but the pain remains constant, never really going away – You don’t stop hurting until you stop breathing.  The melancholy melody and Twain’s evocative almost-quiver of a performance only add to the record’s emotional heft.  Such an ideal balance of emotional resonance with elegant simplicity is an example of Twain-Lange song structure at its top-notch best.

It’s a shame this single wasn’t a bigger hit.  “It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing” aptly demonstrates the fact that Twain’s talents went far beyond delivering catchy pop hooks.  Shania Twain truly was a great songwriter, and “It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing” is one of her best.

Written by Shania Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Grade:  A

Listen:  It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing

Next:  Party for Two

Previous:  When You Kiss Me

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, "Forever and For Always"

2003 | Peak : #4

Shania Twain reached her creative peak on Up! , and it’s reflected in the singles released from alternative to prednisone that project.

Completely drenched in just the sweetest steel guitar, producer “Mutt” Lange manages to get a gorgeous pop sound out of the most country of instruments.

Yet it’s easy to overlook the instrumental perfection, thanks to what still stands as Twain’s finest vocal performance ever committed to tape.   Even her most ardent fans had always praised her for vocal style more than range.  But unless you were familiar with “Amneris’ Letter”, you’d never have suspected she could pull of something so dynamic.

A beautiful song, a powerful vocal performance, and so country by today’s standards that you can’t imagine country radio playing it now.

Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain

Grade: A

Next: Thank You Baby! (For Making Someday Come So Soon)

Previous: Ka-Ching!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NUUASUchRg

 

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, "Ka-Ching!"

2003 | Peak:  #2 (Europe, Austria, Sweden); #3 (Germany); #8 (U.K.)

Shania Twain at her most deliciously subversive.

“Ka-Ching!” stands in such sharp contrast to her entire catalog that it's something of a shock that she wrote and recorded it.

Even more shocking is that this biting indictment of consumer culture was originally written for her Christmas album, but she added it to Up! when that project was shelved.

Less shocking is that she chose not to release it in America, given that the bulk of her descriptions might resonate a little too deeply with her target audience stateside.   The red “pop” mix is better than the green “country” one anyway, channeling all that is best about Abba without sounding dated.  No wonder it was a huge hit in Scandinavia.

I hope that if she ever does come out with another album – almost ten years and counting – her observations are as razor-sharp and sing-along catchy as they are here.

Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain

Grade: A

Next: Forever and For Always

Previous: Up!

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Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists: Shania Twain

It’s about time somebody did a Favorite Songs feature on Shania, isn’t it?  I was going to save this article for after we finished covering Shania in our Retro Single Review series, but I decided I just couldn’t wait that long.

Her astounding commercial success speaks for itself, as does her heavy impact on popular music, but I remain of the opinion that Shania Twain doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the artist she was – as a songwriter, or as a vocalist.  Her songs were clever, sassy, fun, and often tapped into deep wells of substance underneath all the catchiness.  Her distinct perspective was revolutionary for her time.  As an interpretive singer, she had a strong knack for finishing off her lyrical creations through her nuanced, dynamically layered performances.  Twain's remarkable talent combined with Mutt Lange's musical vision made her one of the biggest record sellers in history.  Ever since her heyday, countless young female stars have attempted to emulate her, but the magic Twain herself created with her delicious pop-country confections remains unreplicated.

I tend to become obsessed with one favorite Shania Twain song, and then move rapidly to another, so it’s not easy to assess which songs are my all-time favorites.  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll be doing a lot of second-guessing after this article runs (though I’m fairly confident that my top three selections are set in stone).  At any rate, it will still be a fun look back on all the memorable tunes Shania gave us over the years, while also shining a spotlight on a few lesser-known tracks that we might have forgotten about.  As always, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section.

#25

“Party for Two” (with Billy Currington)

Greatest Hits – 2004

I have at times referred to this song as a “guilty pleasure,” but then I realized that it’s such a great fun record that I don’t really feel guilty at all about loving it.  Silly “sexy in your socks” line aside, “Party for Two” is fun flirty tune that Twain and Currington sell with charm and enthusiasm.  Though more of a pop song than a country song, “Party for Two” is best heard in its country mix, as the pop version with Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath tries a little too hard to sound pop, demonstrating that Shania often sounded best when still keeping a toe in country territory.  “Party for Two” served as Twain’s last Top 10 country hit to date.

#24

“Blues Eyes Crying In the Rain” (with Willie Nelson)

Willie Nelson & Friends – Live and Kickin’ – 2003

Twain’s pop sensibilities certainly have no ill effect on her ability to tackle a traditional country classic with grace and ease, as evidenced by her beautiful cover of this beloved Willie Nelson hit, accompanied by the man himself.

 

#23

“Ka-Ching!”

Up! – 2002

Though largely known for her lighthearted frivolous side, “Ka-Ching!” – a deft takedown of commercial materialism – shows that Twain was still perfectly capable of addressing relevant social themes.

#22

“It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing”

Up! – 2002

Though known for her positivity, Twain could still be surprisingly effective at conveying heartbreak.  Such is demonstrated by this Top 20 hit in which the protagonist strives to maintain optimism as she moves on after a breakup.  Still, the title hook shows that her heavy emotional pain remains constant.

#21

“Love Gets Me Every Time”

Come On Over – 1997

Hey, if you’re going to write a silly, cheesy song, you might as well do it thoroughly and shamelessly.  “Love Gets Me Every Time” combines a hillbilly catchphrase with an unshakable two-step-friendly musical hook to make a delightful ditty that just never seems to get old.

 

#20

“Coat of Many Colors” (with Alison Krauss & Union Station)

Just Because I’m a Woman:  Songs of Dolly Parton – 2003

It’s easy to see how Twain’s own impoverished upbringing might give her a special connection to this classic song, and to its timeless theme of love and family being worth far more than material possessions.  Indeed, “One is only poor only if they choose to be.”  Twain delivers the revered Dolly Parton lyric with authenticity and deep sincerity, while the unique touch of Alison Krauss’s backing vocal elevates the record further.

#19

“You Win My Love”

The Woman In Me – 1995

Written by Twain’s then-husband/producer Mutt Lange, this is the only song on Twain’s last three studio albums that she didn’t have a hand in writing.  The lyric is full of clever automobile-related metaphors, while the driving arrangement and the “Rev it up, rev it up ‘til your engine blows” hook practically beg to be blasted out one’s car windows.

#18

“That Don’t Impress Me Much”

Come On Over – 1997

The sentiment is clear:  Shania Twain is not impressed by guys who are overly impressed with themselves.  One part sing-along, one part spoken word, with some steel guitar and cowbell hooks thrown in, it all adds up to one heck of a fun record.

#17

“Shoes”

Desperate Housewives soundtrack – 2005

It may have been recorded for a soundtrack, but make no mistake about it:  A song that compares finding the right man to finding the ideal footwear, noting that “Some you can’t afford, some are real cheap, some are good for bummin’ around on the beach” is classic Shania.  A clever song loaded with humorous double entendres, “Shoes” is good for a chuckle any day.

#16

“(If You’re Not In It for Love) I’m Outta Here!”

The Woman In Me 1995

The dance-friendly beat is hooky and infectious, but the content runs deeper.  At the heart of the song is a confident female protagonist who refuses to be taken advantage of.  If the guy’s not in it for love… she’s outta here.  This chart-topping hit established Twain’s distinct songwriting point of view, while helping to power her The Woman In Me album to 12x platinum sales.

#15

“I’m Gonna Getcha Good!”

Up! – 2002

Not really much to say about this one except that, as far as great pop-country hooks go, they don’t come much catchier than this.

#14

“Nah!”

Up! – 2002

A kiss-off tune that’s not nearly as bitter as such songs usually are, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious.  Twain almost seems to casually enjoy the moment of letting her no-good ex know that she’s done being mistreated by him.  She admits “I miss you now and then, but would I do it all again?”  The band abruptly stops playing as if to await her answer:  “Nah!”  Ouch.

#13

“Home Ain’t Where His Heart Is (Anymore)”

The Woman In Me – 1995

It’s a shame this song didn’t make a bigger dent in history.  I’ve always considered it one of Twain’s most subtly moving performance as the female narrator mourns the deteriorating state of her marriage; while the song offers no full resolution of the story, save for Twain hoping “If we could only find that feeling once again… If we could only change the way the story ends.”

#12

“Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)”

Come On Over – 1997

Because it makes me happy.  So there.

#11

“Leaving Is the Only Way Out”

The Woman In Me – 1995

The only song on any of Twain’s albums on which she takes sole writer’s credit, this is one of her best songs, as well as one of her countriest.  The refrain “If cryin’ is the only way into your arms, then leavin’ is the only way out” is nothing short of heartbreaking.

#10

“You’ve Got a Way”

Come On Over – 1997

Though I would recommend steering clear of the hokey Notting Hill pop remix, “You’ve Got a Way” remains one of Twain’s most beautifully understated, sincere performances on record, with the acoustic arrangement allowing her to positively shine.

#9

“Forever and For Always”

Up! – 2002

A gem of a love song with an effortlessly endearing melody and a deeply heartfelt performance on Twain’s part.  Though the song was remixed into an international pop smash, it remains best heard in its country form, in which Twain’s sentiments are driven home by subtle, beautiful strains of banjo and steel.

#8

“Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under”

The Woman In Me – 1995

Right out of the starting gate, Shania’s first major hit, and first Lange-produced single release, delivers a powerful punch of her priceless personality.  With a bouncy fiddle-driven production, silly rhyme schemes involving the names of the cheating lover’s mistresses, and the delightfully cheesy bridge (“So next time you’re lonely/ Don’t call on me/ Try the operator/ Maybe she’ll be free”), “Whose Bed” is both shamelessly campy and tons of fun as a result.

#7

“Is There Life After Love”

The Woman In Me – 1995

A rare thematic venture on Twain’s part to the wrong side of cheating.  She regrets her tryst, but regrets coming forward and confessing it even more, bemoaning “You gave me forgiveness, but you could not forget/ I should never have told you what I’ll live to regret.”

#6

“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”

Come On Over – 1997

Well of course!  Who could leave out one of Shania’s most energetic, free-spirited, entertaining performances of her career?

#5

“Dance with the One That Brought You”

Shania Twain – 1993

An early Twain record from the days before she was singing her own self-written material, “Dance with the One That Brought You” marries twain’s beautifully nuanced vocal performance to a charming Gretchen Peters lyric and a gorgeous piano and steel-driven waltz of an arrangement.  It just might be one of Twain’s best moments on record, and yet Mutt Lange had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Who’da guessed?

#4

“You’re Still the One”

Come On Over – 1997

I love this song so, so much.  An unabashedly sincere vocal, shimmering production, and a lyric that encapsulates the firm commitment, pride in having overcome obstacles, and deep, genuine love of a couple that has remained together against all odds and expectations.  While I’ve long believed that commercial success does not equate to quality, I still say that this song was a massive hit because it deserved to be a massive hit.  A timeless, universal sentiment that touched pop fans and country fans alike, “You're Still the One” is pure pop-country perfection.

#3

“No One Needs to Know”

The Woman In Me – 1995

The best country songs are those that rely, not on words themselves, but on the feelings that the words and melodies tap into.  “No One Needs to Know” absolutely radiates with the giddiness and joy of a newfound love that only the narrator herself is to know of (which suggests that Taylor Swift is not kidding when she cites Twain as a major influence).  The infectious, stripped down acoustic arrangement, complete with dobro and steel chords, is a pure and simple delight.

#2

“Up!”

Up! – 2002

Twain has long been known for her incessant positivity – a consistent thread that ran throughout the Come On Over and Up! albums in particular, but was nowhere more concentrated than on the title track of Up!  It comes as a fist-pumping pop-anthem on the red disc; a sprightly banjo rocker on the green disc.  “Up!” is a hugely lovable ball of energy either way.  The production pulses with urgency as it underscores Twain’s spirited performance.  No matter what it is that’s got you down, Twain shouts “Up!  Up!  Up!  There’s no way but up from here!” until she has you believing it too.

#1

“Any Man of Mine”

The Woman In Me – 1995

Is there any other song in her catalog that so thoroughly sums up everything one could love about Shania Twain?  The energy of this performance leaps out your speakers, along with boot-stomping rhythm, the awesome fiddling, and all the signature Twain wit in the humorous lyrics.  I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that the line dance breakdown just might be my favorite part.

It was a bold artistic move and a substantial risk at the time of its release, yet it helped blaze a trail that female country artists are still following today.  But even when bringing it down to a personal, individual level, there are simply few other Shania Twain songs, hits or not, that put a skip in my step like this one does.  Shania's cheeky delivery makes me smile.  The lyrics make me laugh.  The beat makes me want to dance.  Any way you look at it, this song hits me just right.

The critic in me respects it.  The fan in me adores it.  Now if you'll excuse me, I think it's time for some kicking, turning, and stomp-stomping…

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, "I'm Holdin' on to Love (To Save My Life)"

2000 | Peak: #17

The twelfth and final single from Come On Over wasn't planned, but persistent unsolicited airplay earned it release.

There was no video or any other promotional effort, as Twain had sequestered herself from the public eye by that point.   So this one got by on its sheer charm, and has the added bonus of not being overplayed to death.

Despite references to the “net” and Dr. Ruth, it still sounds remarkably fresh today.  It's clever, has a great beat, and borrows liberally from eighties arena rock without being overwhelmed by it.

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Shania and Mutt made it look so easy.  Take one listen to country radio today for a reminder that it's not.

Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain

Grade: A

Next: I'm Gonna Getcha Good!

Previous: Rock This Country!

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, “That Don’t Impress Me Much”

1998 | Peak: #8

One of the defining aspects of Shania Twain’s music has been her propensity for inspiring women to feel as though they have a right to express themselves.

Her empowering attitude hasn’t been expressed through songs of revenge or violence, but rather, through straightforward, no-nonsense lyrics that simply cut to the point with humor and clever turns of phrase.

With some playfulness, “That Don’t Impress Me Much” follows in this no-nonsense tradition by making it clear that it takes more than a high IQ, good looks or a fancy car to truly impress this woman. Along with the straight talk, we also hear traces of amusement throughout the song, which is one of the signature endearing qualities of Twain’s music.

While the Brad Pitt reference threatens to date this somewhat quirky single, it is catchy, sing-able and one of Twain’s more country-sounding efforts.

Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain

Pop Version:

1999 |  Peak: #7 (U.S.); #3 (U.K.); #2 (Australia)

After scoring with two remixed hit ballads, Twain’s first uptempo pop crossover hit required a lot more work under the hood.  While the vocal track remained the same, the backing music is completely reinvented.

The synthesizer-drenched dance mix was dated even in 1999, though it gave the song a campy feel that matched the over-the-top video well.  It also made the song very appealing for international audiences.   It’s not as good as the original mix, but it does lay the groundwork for the ambitious Up! project, which uses synths a lot more effectively. – KJC

Grade: B

Next: Man! I Feel Like a Woman!

Previous: Honey, I’m Home

Country Mix:

Pop Mix:

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, “Honey, I’m Home”

1998 | Peak: #1

Come On Over was such a forward-sounding album that by the time the eleventh track played, it sounded like a dated throwback.

“Honey, I’m Home” is a paint-by-numbers rewrite of the groundbreaking “Any Man of Mine”, deliberately written to placate the fans who discovered her through that song.

That isn’t speculation, mind you.  Twain stated it outright when the album was released.

It isn’t a bad record, by any means.   I’d make the case that it’s actually funnier and a bit catchier than “Any Man of Mine.”  But like any sequel, no amount of improvement can recreate the impact of the original.

Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain

Grade: B

Next: That Don’t Impress Me Much

Previous: When

 

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, “When”

1998 | Peak:  #14 (Canada); #18 (U.K.)

The closest thing in Twain’s catalog to a lost hit, “When” was released as the follow up to “You’re Still the One” in the United Kingdom.  Twain even shot a video for the song, which consists mostly of her playing in traffic while dressed like an angel.

“When” has a different tone than most of Come On Over.  As the only song that deals with heartbreak, it’s thematically different from the rest of the set.   The lyrics are just tongue-in-cheek enough to keep her away from self-pity territory, and the melody of the chorus pushes her to one of her best vocal performances.

Because it came before the very big pop hits in the U.K. and after all of them in Canada, “When” has the added bonus of being a Come On Over hit that didn’t suffer from overexposure, making it sound fresher than its counterparts today.

Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain

Grade: B+

Next: Honey, I’m Home

Previous: From This Moment On (with Bryan White)

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Retro Single Review: Shania Twain, “From This Moment On” (with Bryan White)

1998 | Peak: #6

Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain

Bryan White was Shania Twain’s first choice for duet partner, and the A-list pairing kept “From This Moment On” on the charts long before it was officially released as a single.

Interestingly, it’s a better showcase for White in its duet form, who turns in some signature licks and makes Twain seem a bit bland in comparison.  However, it also gives the song a bit of a mid-eighties Peter Cetera vibe, which hasn’t held up well over time.

Grade:  B

Pop Version:

1998 |  Peak:  #4 (U.S.); #9 (U.K.); #2 (Australia)

Twain revamped the single for release in the pop market, replacing White’s lines with her own voice and turning it into a potent solo number.  The addition of a Spanish-flavored guitar that borrowed heavily from “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman”  gave the ballad added oomph, transforming it into a wedding staple across the world.

Grade: A-

Next: When

Previous: You’re Still the One

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