If you were to believe everything you read in the press release, you’d assume that Shania Twain’s latest album is entirely focused on self-empowerment. Just look at the title, for starters. And then there’s the accompanying Instagram post, where the Canadian singer and songwriter declared how comfortable she is in her own skin these days and how “this album reflects that musically”. Who could possibly argue, with song titles such as Not Just a Girl and lyrics such as “I don’t want your money, honey, I got my own tools”?
You don’t have to listen too closely between the lines, however, to realise that there is also score-settling going on with Queen of Me. It’s been almost 15 years since Twain separated from her producer husband Mutt Lange, following his affair with her best friend, but you’d have to assume that songs like sultry kiss-off Brand New (“I cut you out when you cut me deep/ So I deleted our history”) and Pretty Liar (Your pants are on fire/ You’re such a f****n’ liar”) are directed toward her ex.
By the same token, the sweeter numbers such as Got It Good and Last Day of Summer are presumably a paean to her second husband, who was formerly married to that same best friend (things clearly got a little complicated, you could say).
As Twain’s personal life evolved, so did her music. Despite her country roots, it would be inaccurate to classify the 57-year-old in that same genre these days. Although the odd twangy riff is audible on songs such as Giddy Up and Inhale/Exhale Air, the glossy, shoulder-shimmying production of Number One, Best Friend and Waking Up Dreaming pitch her firmly as a gawkily ageing pop artist.
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The one noteworthy exclusion is emotive pop ballad The Hardest Stone, pitched against an almost hip-hop beat; despite her musical ancestry, her still-resonant voice works brilliantly in such a setting.
It’s remarkable to think that Twain has forged such an noteworthy niche in music with just five albums to her name; two Las Vegas residencies, the adoration of young, hip acts such as Haim paying homage, and a handful of hits that are guaranteed to stay on karaoke rotation for decades to come is no mean feat.
Yet her sixth record is too solid, too safe, and already sounds a decade behind her peers, both in theme and sound. A Cher-style reinvention with a maverick producer behind the wheel could set Twain up for a stunning third act to her career. The question is whether the Queen of Me is prepared to rock the wagon.