Shania Twain

Now

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Shania Twain entered a self-imposed exile following the supporting tour for 2002's Up!, suffering from a then-undisclosed contraction of Lyme disease. Troubles compounded, as they often do. Twain split from her husband, Robert John "Mutt" Lange, in 2008, a traumatic event on its own that was complicated by the fact that he was her collaborator on the blockbusters The Woman in Me (1995), Come on Over (1997), and Up! This meant she had to start over personally and professionally, which explains the long delay between Up! and Now, which was released in September of 2017. Many trends have come and gone during that 15-year gap and Twain -- assisted by not one producer but a roundtable, as is standard for 21st century blockbusters -- decides to split the difference between chasing fashion and staying true to her glitzy country-pop. It's a tricky move made harder by the fact that so much of her '90s appeal rested on her unfettered exuberance, and that sunniness is understandably tarnished due to the bruises she sustained during her difficult hiatus. Twain addresses this pain on Now -- sometimes directly, sometimes elliptically -- but she makes it plain that she's come out from the darkness, celebrating that she's "Home Now" with the "Light of My Life" and "Life's About to Get Good." Worthy sentiments all, but the problem is these songs -- and Now in general -- don't feel nearly as bright and cheerful as Twain's records with Lange, nor do they deliver the same kind of sweet, sentimental rush on the ballads. Now is melodically undernourished, with hooks never quite materializing in either the choruses or the excessively polished arrangements designed to support Twain, not sell the tracks. That production, a mishmash of Vegas showstoppers and feints toward the electronic-glazed AAA charts, feels as hesitant and inarticulate as the songs. Sometimes, Twain's signature charm surfaces -- "Because of You" (present only in the album's 16-track Deluxe Edition) has a lovely, gentle sway, "You Can't Buy Love" is a fizzy bit of bubblegum in the vein of Amy Winehouse's "Valerie" -- but Now feels fussy, as if every element was triple-guessed because the pressure to have a triumphant comeback was too great.

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