Shania Twain: Come On Over

Seven notes of hot, crackling guitar. Let’s go, girls. Three words, beamed forth like a cosmic directive, spoken with the Mona Lisa’s suggestive sense of mischief. Mother isn’t calling, but her fun younger sister sure is.

Though it was the eighth single from Shania Twain’s Come On Over, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” is the first volley and thesis statement of the singer-songwriter’s third album. Celebrating girls’ nights out and their grooming rituals, the song embodied the liberated lady’s lifestyle with “the prerogative to have a little fun.” In the video, an inversion of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” Twain gradually ditches layers of her outfit amid a troop of synchrony-challenged beefcakes. The song revamped the spirit of Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 hit for the blossoming bosslady feminism of the late 1990s—girls just want to have fun, but women go out and get it for themselves.

Released in November of 1997, Come On Over arrived on the high tide of the pre-Napster Clinton economy, before the music industry could sense that the bottom was about to fall out. Everything about Come On Over radiated enthusiasm, from the invitation of its title to the six exclamation points sprinkled across its tracklist. With its hard-charging hooks, sassy kiss-offs, and radiant sparkle, it became one of the defining titles for the “I don’t like country, but…” crowd. With Robert “Mutt” Lange in her corner as producer, co-writer, and husband, Twain set a new standard for pop-country crossovers. She started a new chapter of the decades-old grousing over who gets to be country and make country music, kicking open opportunities for a new generation.

For a record that had dramatic consequences for Nashville, Come On Over had very little to do with the city itself. Twain was an early-thirties singer-songwriter who’d grown up poor in Canada; Lange was a hermetic South African-born producer whose pre-Shania credits were mostly big-ticket rock records: the Cars’ Heartbeat City, Def Leppard’s Hysteria and Adrenalize, plus the AC/DC hat trick of Highway to Hell, Back in Black, and For Those About to Rock We Salute You.

By some measures, Twain developed her success from the hardscrabble hunger of her working-class upbringing, but by others, she was a genre-wrecking false prophet who could nonetheless pull off a great smoky eye. She had grown up in rural Ontario, developing her musical interest as a child and playing gigs around town—including last-call appearances at bars—at her parents’ behest. As a 21-year-old, she began to look after her four siblings following their parents’ death in a car crash, supporting the family by singing in a variety revue at a resort. Her aspirations were never limited to country music, as she told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997: “I wrote every kind of music…I wanted to sing rock’n’roll at 12 years old.” Still, she settled on a relative country comfort zone for her first album, 1993’s Shania Twain.

Lange brought his arena-tuned ear to 1995’s The Woman in Me, which eventually sold 20 million copies after a disappointing showing from Twain’s debut. The album’s boisterous singles toyed with new country combinations, establishing Twain as a pop-forward up-and-comer: the slick barroom swing of “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under,” the accelerating stomp of “Any Man of Mine,” the rock edge of “(If You’re Not in It for Love) I’m Outta Here!” She built steam in resisting touring for the record, and by 1997, she had Springsteen star-maker Jon Landau as another asset in her corner.

While drenched in crimson-velvet glamor, Come On Over feels like a complete manifestation of a small-town girl’s ambitions, where you’ve got a hold on yourself and a hot man available for treats and foot rubs, and you’re also somehow able to be incredibly sexy in bold red lipstick. It’s no small wonder that Come On Over sold 36 million copies by the end of the millennium, still holding the distinction of being the 12th best-selling record ever in the United States.

At 16 tracks, Come On Over is hardly lean. But the hits are so potent that the duds mostly fail to register. Lange’s fastidious attention to production makes Come On Over a power-couple masterwork: Beneath its high-gloss finish sits an engine of uncompromising bridges and choruses. It’s difficult to hit pause at any point in the album’s first four songs, and after a few minutes of breathing room, Twain lunges into the unstoppable three-song run of “You’re Still the One,” “Honey, I’m Home,” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” That Twain is but a so-so singer becomes immaterial as she coasts through her agreeable numbers—which are, as it turns out, very easy for a regular person to sing along to.

Come On Over is also assertive. It channels all the gusto of someone living their dreams in real time, matching a blockbuster sense of confidence with arena-size sounds and attendant energy. When Twain says “Let’s go girls,” the answer is unquestionably, “Yes ma’am.” Her band of bruisers hurtle along, with “I’m Holdin’ on to Love (To Save My Life)” picking up at a gallop from “Man!”’s opening salvo. Its underlying early-rock rhythm jumpstarts a sense of anticipation as Twain sings about the trials and triumph of true love.

From there, Twain and Lange make good on their then-indelible bond by transforming the phrase “gol’ darn gone and done it” into an implausibly great earworm on “Love Gets Me Every Time.” The record’s title track is loaded with pomp and hospitality, slowing to a parade’s pace as Twain encourages relaxation and cutting loose. Aligning Twain’s French-Canadian heritage with the day’s brief zydeco fascination, an accordion gives the Acadian-flavored track a curious edge. Declining an invitation so obviously ready to please, so unburdened of pretense—well, it would just be rude.

Twain put her foot all the way down with “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” a killer cruiser that gleamed like a chrome bumper as it rode the Top 40 for 22 weeks. It arrives later in the record as a sharp dismissal of gasbags who can’t keep up with her needs. Cars, looks, attitude: None of it compares to a man who shows up where it counts. The song’s quicksilver guitar lead catches with the same immediacy as “Man!”’s primary declaration, the spicy edge of Twain’s rebukes cooled by the gliding guitar and smooth backing harmonies of the chorus.

Twain applies her all-in approach to every second of Come On Over. At their most capital-B Basic, the songs at least respect the tradition by going full-tilt gushing romantic. “From This Moment On” arrives as the first of Come On Over’s most saccharine ballads, which feel like appeals to recently surrendered bachelorettes seeking a perfect first-dance number for the reception. A duet with young Oklahoma crooner Bryan White, it is a breathy vow with a Disney-level cinematic sweep. “You’re Still the One” follows with a gauzy reaffirmation of the sentiment a few minutes later. Though they offer calm between gales, they keep the record’s passionate throughline running without sacrificing too much ground to the treacle.

Fiddles are the key element in transmitting Come On Over’s country core, one of the most hotly contested qualifiers of the record’s gatekeeping detractors. The players are all bona fide country pros: Larry Franklin (Asleep at the Wheel, Randy Travis), Rob Hajacos (George Strait, Brooks & Dunn, Garth Brooks), Aubrey Haynie (Trisha Yearwood, Clint Black), and the bluegrass-inclined titan Stuart Duncan. But in the “Don’t Be Stupid” video, lines of hard-heeled steppers join Twain and a cadre of plainly dressed fiddlers on screen, shoving the song into Celtic associations (and hooking it to another intense late-’90s cultural obsession: Riverdance). Whether swinging forward in a surge or skirting around a jock-rock stomp, the fiddles are Come On Over’s Rosetta Stone, playing all sides into an appealing middle.

With the smeared edges of their production, Twain and Lange master the illusion of genre, as if they fashioned Come On Over into a plastic lenticular print. Tipped toward the honky-tonk hop of “Honey, I’m Home” or the unabashed twang of “Love Gets Me Every Time,” Come On Over can boot-scootin’ boogie with the best; the glimmering facets of “That Don’t Impress Me Much” and “You’re Still the One” bear the blinding shimmer of full-strength pop. Twain could be anything to anybody, a principle that bolted past genre as “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” spawned thousands of drag homages.

Twain drew criticism in the press for perceived shallowness. Garth Brooks’ shadow loomed in almost every critique, having filled arenas by making a big deal about his status as an affable everyman who also appreciated the occasional spectacle of pyrotechnics. But…

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