Fans rejoice: Now, Shania Twain’s first album in 15 years, is almost entirely not bad. Not bad at all, in fact, though your first impressions may mislead you. From the opener on, the album has such a mild, mature attitude (albeit one with its share of weird musical touches) that one is tempted to write it off as boring. But once the hooks kick in, it’s hard to resist, even if the Metacritic ratings imply that plenty are trying.
Only one song keeps Now from being one of the best and most consistent pop albums of 2017, but before even thinking about that one, it’s necessary to understand where Shania’s been and how she got here. Her last album was 2002’s Up!, which represented a turning point. For one, it was the peak of Shania Twain’s infatuation with exclamation points (“Waiter! Bring Me Water!”). More importantly, she took a hiatus from recording afterwards. Then, in 2008, she separated from producer Mutt Lange after he cheated on her with her best friend Marie-Anne Thiébaud. (Twain married Thiébaud’s ex-husband in 2011, because her life is apparently a soap opera.)
Now is a fitting title for her comeback album not only because of the wait but because the sorta title track “Home Now” is driven by the refrain, “I’ve been roaming round the lost and found/But I’m home now.” She missed out on her big divorce album, so here, she makes up for it with enough moving-on songs to count as a recurring theme—if not exactly a Lemonade-level concept album.
Anyway, who would want a Shania album devoid of happiness? She gets her ballads in, singing “Still can’t believe he’d leave me/To love her” on the mesmerizing “Poor Me.” But lead single “Life’s About to Get Good”—much better in album context than on its own—is a joyful anthem that climaxes with, “I’m ready to be loved.” Life’s about joy, life’s about pain, as she sings, but her outlook here is primarily glass-half-full, as seen on highlights “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” and “Roll Me on the River.”
Both of these songs are mind-blowing on a musical level, the former a tropical house jam (that, for some reason, is only on the deluxe edition) and the latter an intense and groovy piece of country-rock. The lyrics paint a more conflicted picture, though. “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” makes it clear that there’s a reason the making up has to occur, and maybe kissing won’t fix everything, but the mariachi horns and island beat sure make you wonder. On the opposite end, “Roll Me on the River” contrasts the thumping, swinging, almost apocalyptic drums with, “‘Love Me Tender’ on the radio/Turn it louder, kiss me slow.” The world’s a mess, it’s in her kiss.
Now is Shania at her darkest, most emotionally resonant, and realest, but reality comes at a price, and more of this album falls into the mediocre category than 1997’s seminal Come On Over. “More Fun” is so self-conscious about its placement on the record that its title features both the word “fun” and the implication that there’ll be more of it. The absence of exclamation marks speaks volumes. Despite this, only one song on the album is flat-out bad, a song that proves that while it is unfortunate that the hiatus lost us our topical Shania breakup album, we should be counting our blessings that we never had to endure any Iraq War-era Shania LPs.
“Soldier” is a pandering, overly sentimental throwback to uber patriotic country music so lacking in nuance that it’ll soon be appearing in the film Thank You for Your Service (no, really). Beyond the fact that it’s simply an awful song, “Soldier” feels utterly out of place on Now—not a huge problem if you have the deluxe edition, where it’s followed by a fine closer titled “All in All,” but a major one if you have the standard edition, where it closes the album.
Now has its faults, but if you’ve heard anything about it, it’s probably a lot better than you’ve heard. It’s an album about celebrating the joys and pain of life and hoping the good outweighs the bad in the end; about both catching up and looking forward, themes reflected in the genres she chooses to mix her country-pop with. Her finest in 20 years. It’s been too long.