Album Review – Shania Twain’s “Queen of Me”

photo: Louie Banks

Wow this album is terrible. And even though that assessment may seem self-evident to any self-respecting country fan simply by seeing whose name is on the cover, with the way Shania Twain is currently being celebrated by some within the country music fold, and is also one of the artists squarely within the retrospective window where everyone looks back upon their careers fondly, it’s probably worth underscoring just how terrible this album truly is, and explaining why.

If Shania Twain wanted to make an exclusively pop record, that’s her prerogative. After all, that ship sailed with her decades ago when she released a specific pop version of her 2002 album Up!. But with the way Republic Records made a dedicated Nashville imprint out of whole cloth to sign Shania to and release this record into the country realm, someone should probably step up and offer some sort of rebuttal, however belated.

Pop music paraded as country is one thing, but this is just bad music all of the way around. Queen of Me is like an embarrassing pander to 90s rave kids that comes 25 years too late, with the only audience left being 40-something divorcees still trying to hold onto their youth by wearing pigtails and getting collagen injections, and banging their son’s friends while on Molly.

First and foremost, whoever is in charge of whatever they’ve done to Shania Twain’s voice should be dragged in front of a musical tribunal and charged with high crimes and misdemeanors. You will not hear a more artificial-sounding and almost demonic tone than whatever is emanating out of Shania Twain’s mouth after it’s been run through such a merciless gauntlet of studio transmogrifiers resulting in something so distinctly inhuman-sounding, it’s nightmare-inducing.

When you mix this with utterly vapid songs that offer absolutely no stimulus aside from maybe a tacit pulse rise for gullible audiences from the simple repetitiveness of phrases, the songs of Queen of Me leave the listener aggressively unfulfilled. Forget coming across anything even closely resembling “country” in this effort. You’d be happy to just run into anything that feels organic on this barren moonscape of creativity.

Listening through the first few song of the album like “Brand New,” “Waking Up Dreaming,” and “Best Friend,” you’re struck by just how immature and emotionally under-developed the writing is, beyond the repetitiveness. It’s like derivative club music, but for kids who are too young to get into clubs yet, and coming from a 57-year-old woman. It’s achingly evident that Shania is unwilling to accept her station in life, and embrace the aging process.

And that’s all before you get to the ridiculous track “Pretty Liar” with it’s dumb DJ booth/dance floor callouts, and literal “pants on fire” nursery rhyme writing intertwined with completely unnecessary yet equally immature f-bombs that crater any last confidence you had that this album would be good.

Of course, Shania has received a lot of credit for this album being “empowering” to women with tracks like “Queen of Me” and “Not Just A Girl.” But leaning on transparent and shallow sloganeering as opposed to story, or even message, or anything of any substance whatsoever makes the exercise unbearably uninteresting—and from a social justice standpoint—unimportant. Even Pitchfork deduced in its rather harsh review that Shania, “tries so hard to capture current trends that it already sounds behind the times.”

Sure, you can tell how the lead off song and single “Giddy Up!” will be infectious in the hands of the right audience. And there is a song on the album called “Last Day of Summer” that unlike the entirety of the rest of the album actually tells a story as opposed to just leaning on dance club cues, and the acoustic guitar in the song comes across like a breath of fresh air in 37 minutes of suffocation.

The worst part about Queen of Me is not just that it’s a big miss for whatever Shania Twain was going for. It’s that it’s also a missed opportunity for her to ride the wave of resurgent interest in 90s country to do something that could actually represent legacy women in country music well, and perhaps help inspire a new generation of performers.

We’re staring at the very real possibility of Shania Twain going into the Country Music Hall of Fame in the next five years, and though purists love to say Shania Twain was never country, songs like “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” say otherwise. But what we have here makes post-country Taylor Swift sound like Patsy Cline in comparison, and makes the idea of Shania getting perpetually snubbed by the Hall of Fame a very real possibility.

Instead of making like Ronnie Dunn and other 90s stars and retracing her steps to country gold, Shania Twain is still searching for pop superstardom and relevancy while still regarding country as a stepping stone she stepped past many years ago. But unfortunately for Shania, Queen of Me is a step in the wrong direction, and one that won’t win her the second wave of pop culture relevancy she craves.

1 3/4 Guns DOWN (1.5/10)

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This article has been updated.

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