Shania Twain Feels Like A New Woman On ‘Queen of Me’
On her new album Queen of Me, Shania Twain doesn’t sound like the same person who was once so on top she could playfully feign indifference toward Brad Pitt’s movie-star looks in “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” At the time, she could do no wrong, having become a global star and brought country music forward into a new era with arena-rock attitude, sex appeal, and hooks to match. But as her long-awaited 2017 album Now demonstrated, Twain’s voice, affected by illness and slowly rehabilitated, has changed — it’s deeper and more textured than when she was the undisputed queen of country pop. And though there are a few subtle nods to that imperial phase of her career, Queen of Me doesn’t concern itself too much with her former dominance. Instead, it’s an uplifting statement about being your own champion in the present.
Which is to say, she still has plenty of fun, even as she’s fully aware that it’s not the Nineties anymore. Album opener “Giddy Up” merges a stomping beat and a nonsensical tongue-twister chorus into a peppy, lets-go-girls exhortation to live it up. It’s the closest thing to an old-school Shania jam, and also the closest to something country radio might play (if that’s even her goal at this point). She gets into (and out of) all kinds of trouble with a close pal in the effervescent “Best Friend.” And in the propulsive “Not Just a Girl,” she advocates for her own agency. “Hold me, but don’t hold me down,” she sings.
“Not Just a Girl” is one of several songs where Twain touches on self-empowerment. The title track combines harp glissandos and a deep, thumping drum track to rebuff someone who’s bent on controlling everything. In “Brand New,” she emerges from a relationship with a clean slate and fresh perspective. Best of all, “Pretty Liar” rides a perky girl-group rhythm and melody that belies a bitter heart. “You’re such a fuckin’ liar,” she sings, sweetness flecked with acid.
Sometimes the production choices feel conspicuously dated. “Giddy Up” has a touch of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” in its rhythmic swagger, “Waking Up Dreaming” wanders a bit too close to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” (and Toni Basil’s “ Mickey” by extension), and there’s a sense of allegiance to the moment when Swift’s 1989 and Dev Hynes’ assorted productions were everywhere, all soft synth pads and ghostly vocal samples. It feels too familiar, even if there’s nothing wrong with the songs themselves.
Queen of Me is more successful when its pop references feel attuned to her sensibilities as a global pop O.G. “Got It Good” has a touch of the old maximalist Twain energy, but it’s underpinned by a sleek disco beat out of Kylie Minogue’s Fever era and ABBA-style vocal harmonies. The album’s closing track “The Hardest Stone,” produced by Twenty One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph, is equally fascinating with its hip-hop breakbeat, cavernous bass, and vulnerable vocal performance. “When will I learn?” Twain sings, still feeling the sting of a heartbreak. It’s a grounding moment on the heels of a fortifying pep talk. You can and should take control of your life, Twain suggests on Queen of Me, long as you realize it won’t make you invincible.