Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

25 years on, Shania Twain’s Come On Over has left an undeniable legacy

"Come On Over: Diamond Edition"

Release date: 25 August 2023
Shania Twain Come On Over cover
01 September 2023, 09:00 Written by Tom Kingsley

It seems strange to describe Shania Twain as an experimental artist.

But when she first played songs from The Woman in Me – her second album – to label execs in Nashville, their concern wasn’t so much that it sounded too commercial as that it sounded too unusual. As she writes in her memoir From This Moment On, “Even those who had reservations about the music acknowledged that we had achieved something new, different. In fact, that’s the trouble some of them had with it: it sounded too different.”

It's a testament to the album’s success – and the even greater success of its follow-up, Come On Over – that this perspective now seems so skewed. Working with her producer and then-husband Robert “Mutt” Lange, Shania Twain changed the country, pop and rock music landscapes with those two albums, redefining what each genre could sound like and giving millions of listeners something they hadn’t known they wanted, but now couldn’t get enough of. It seems fair to say that without Shania there’d be no Taylor Swift, no Kacey Musgraves, no Maren Morris.

Come On Over is now celebrating its 25th anniversary, with a characteristically confusing handful of “Diamond” editions getting released: This should come as no surprise, given how fond Shania has always been of bringing out her music in different versions. (Up!, her fourth record, had a completely bonkers “blue” version that reimagined every song in a Bollywood style. Astonishingly, it’s rather good.) So it seems as good a time as any to revisit the album that started all this fuss.

When we think of Come On Over, we tend to think of the records it broke rather than the record itself. This is, after all, the best-selling album by a female solo artist of all time; it’s the best-selling country album in the USA, with 40 million copies sold. And it’s fair to say that on its release, most critics were pretty sceptical about the actual music. John T. Davis in the Austin American-Statesman called it “a largely vapid effort” that “manages to give both rock and country a bad name”, while Nick Duerden in Q called it “almost unforgivably bland”.

These are valid critiques, and Shania Twain’s music is, from a certain perspective, very bad. But it’s bad in ways that almost don’t matter. Of course the lyrics are twee; of course the production is unsubtle and the songs simplistic. These are criticisms which can be equally levelled at an Irish folk ballad or, indeed, most country music prior to Twain, and they’re largely irrelevant here. It’s partly their lack of complexity which makes the songs so enjoyable.

Some, like “Honey I’m Home” or “Come On Over”, are downright clumsy in their attempt to bring country, rock and pop into a smooth ménage à trois, and you can hear Lange and Twain straining to unite sounds that hadn’t been brought together in that way before. But so many of the other songs on the album just work, somehow, against all odds. The classic examples have become staples of the camp pop repertoire: “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” is a queer anthem, whose simplistic worldview works in its favour when it comes to being inclusive. You don’t have to be a smart-arse to enjoy that opening “da, da, da-naaa-na da da!” riff, any more than you need to query whether the best thing about being a woman is, indeed, the prerogative to have a little fun. You don’t even need to know what the word “prerogative” means. The song’s vapid blandness is the very same thing that makes it so inclusive and inviting.

The album’s escapism makes sense when you know the story of Eileen Twain’s life (she took “Shania” from a backstage worker she met while singing at a golf resort). Born into poverty in Canada, she witnessed repeated physical fights between her mother and adoptive father – fights which only ended when, at the age of 14, she packed her siblings and their belongings into the car and told her mother to drive them to Toronto, where they checked into a homeless shelter. Music was a literal and figurative escape: a way out of the cycle of poverty, as her mother saw it, and from Shania/Eileen’s perspective a way to take shelter from the turbulence of her home life. “Music became my passion, freedom, discovery, comfort, and savior”, as she writes in her memoir. This is a well-worn cliché for so many artists, but in Twain’s case it seems more meaningful, given the vast chasm that separates the sentimentality of her music from the grittiness of her early life.

It seems fitting, then, that Twain has recently announced her return to Vegas – somewhere she spent a good stint of the fifteen years between her fourth album Up! and its follow-up, Now, in 2017. Las Vegas is the quintessential escape from reality, and the bonus disc of Come On Over’s new Diamond Edition opens with a performance from her residency there. The six live recordings included here have a certain charm about them, and at the very least they’re another testament to Twain’s prominence: who else could get Chris Martin, Elton John and the Backstreet Boys to make casual appearances at their shows? They also show very clearly the damage Twain’s voice has suffered over the years, caused largely by a severe case of Lyme disease which left her unable to speak audibly over the phone. She had surgery on her voice box after the problem was finally diagnosed, but you can clearly hear the difference – on the last track in particular Twain sounds almost out of breath.

Less interesting than the live recordings are a trio of remixes closing the box sets out. These are no more or less uninspiring than any other remixes tacked onto deluxe editions, although Frank Walker’s mix of “You’re Still the One” at least shows some sensitivity to the use of piano and backing vocals on the original. The thing is, most people won’t make it this far anyway: the original record is over an hour long, and packed with enough classic songs to make the bonus tracks a bit of an afterthought. Buying the Diamond Edition for the remasters also seems a bit pointless, given how exceptional a job Mutt Lange did back in 1997. If you want to commemorate Come On Over’s 25th anniversary by splashing out on a box set in a hardback book cover, don’t let me stop you. If not, just dig the original out of your parents’ attic (or stream it, if you’re reading this in 2023) and enjoy an hour of switching your critical voice for your karaoke voice. You’ll be glad you did.

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