(Photo Credit: Universal Music Group)

The time had finally come. Some thought it might never happen; after all, there was a Las Vegas residency show and a “farewell” world tour, but others still held out hope, and the day finally came: after 15 long years, which included a lot of turmoil in her personal life, Shania Twain released her fifth studio album, Now, her first studio release since 2002’s Up!.

Shania Twain was the first artist I ever loved. 6-year-old Jeffrey had her Up! Close and Personal concert on DVD and sang along to every word on Up! and her 2004 Greatest Hits album until all of his friends and relatives were ready to kill him and/or beg him to please listen to something else. Before the days I fell in love with any other music, there was Shania. So to say I was excited when the announcement came that she was finally putting out a new studio album is a vastly large understatement.

I’ll admit, I was one of the people who had begun to believe a new album from Shania might never happen, and everything considered, I didn’t really blame her. As some may quickly forget—Twain retired from performing publicly in 2004 after the release of the Greatest Hits album, initially saying she wanted to focus on raising her son but would confirm years later that she was forced to step back from performing due to a weakening voice. By 2008, things would change forever for Shania when the media got wind of her separation from her husband and longtime producer, Robert “Mutt” Lange, who had been confirmed to have been cheating on her with her best friend, Marie-Anne Thiébaud. The following year, she attributed her lack of new music to personal pains and by 2011, Twain would reveal that lesions were found on her vocal cords and she was diagnosed with dysphonia (a.k.a. chronic hoarse voice). But 2011 would prove to be a pretty good year for Shania: not only were her vocal rehabilitation and recovery chronicled on her OWN reality series, Why Not? with Shania Twain (following the release of her autobiography, From This Moment On), but she also remarried…to the ex-husband of her former best friend! Isn’t it funny how things work out? She also released her first single in 7 years, “Today Is Your Day,” which never got the appreciation it deserved.

In 2012, Twain landed herself a Las Vegas residency show, Shania: Still the One, which ran until 2014 for a total of 105 shows. She stated several times that she was working on a new album during her time off from Still the One, continuing to post cryptic photos of herself in the studio or at home playing guitar for years to follow, but nothing ever seemed to materialize. As it was, people were already theorizing that her career was dead, because Vegas residency shows seem to have a bad rap of being where an artist goes to perform after their heyday has withered and died, but any Britney Spears fan will tell you that is largely false.

In 2015, Shania launched the Rock This Country Tour, which was said to be her farewell tour (and was also the first time I got to see her live! I’d only been wanting to see her in concert since the days when I watched her DVD until it didn’t work anymore so, yeah, dream come true). After that, a part of me seemed sure that new music might never follow: that might have been it, and I started to make my peace with that. But then, this year, after so many years of emotional turmoil, illness and promises that new music was coming, everything came true: in June 2017, Twain released a new single, “Life’s About to Get Good” (hoo boy, did that ever seem like a promising title!) and later announced that her fifth studio album and first in 15 years, Now, was to be released on September 29, 2017.

I’ll never forget the feeling of pure joy I had on June 15, 2017 when I logged onto YouTube to hear the audio of the lead single from Shania Twain’s first studio album in 15 years. It took a couple of listens for me to form an opinion—I was surprised by her vocals, which sounded oddly processed in a way I wasn’t used to hearing from her—but that didn’t impede on my overall opinion that the song was a light, summery BOP. She released a few other songs as promotional singles over the next few months, which I ultimately decided to stop listening to, because I wanted to experience the full album in all its glory when it came out. September 29, 2017: Jeffrey bolts to his local record store, praying to find a physical copy (physical CDs are becoming hard to come by in this day and age, and it makes me DEPRESSED), but there was no need to panic, several were in stock. I paid the highway robbery for the deluxe version of the CD (Shania deserves it regardless, so it was worth it). I came home. I imported it into iTunes. I pressed play. I listened. I tried to formulate what I thought, and I can finally say what I think of Now: it’s just okay, and maybe that’s okay.

Several people have asked me what I think of Shania’s new album (as they should, I mean, I wasn’t kidding when I said I lived and breathed Shania Twain as a child), and you know what? I can’t say it’s amazing. I can’t say it’s terrible. It’s just okay, and I’m satisfied with that. Like I said, while “Life’s About to Get Good” is a good tune (probably the most solid track on the album, honestly), it introduces us to a processed Shania we have never heard before. I have no beef with her for using pitch correction, and I have no beef with any artist who uses pitch correction (you can read more about that in my think-piece about auto-tune and pitch correction here). Shania can sing, and we know that. We’ve always known that. Her reasons for using pitch correction are none of our business, and even then, I don’t think we can really blame her: she all but completely lost her singing voice for several years and went through rehab to regain it, all while going through a painful separation and divorce with the man who produced a large part of her music for the first decade of her career. All of that to say, I’m sure Shania’s vocals aren’t what they used to be, and that is fine. Life happens. She wanted to finally put out a new album, and short of sounding less than stellar on the tracks, I’m sure some electronic manipulation was seen as necessary. And, on top of the processed Shania we weren’t used to hearing, Now is a much more somber, subdued Shania, and only some of that works for me, to be perfectly honest. As much as I sympathize with her for finding out that her husband was cheating on her with her best friend, the album contains more than one song whose lyrics obviously deal with her separation and divorce, which one wouldn’t exactly think are fresh wounds. Wounds, no doubt; I don’t delegitimize what she has gone through. But certain songs like “Poor Me” and “Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl” seem almost immature in retrospect, and combined with the fact that no song on the album is really OH MY GOD amazing, it continues to make it difficult to say Shania can still knock it out of the park, at least in this regard. Again, don’t get me wrong: her talent will always be valid, but with this new album it has become increasingly clear that she’s just not the old Shania anymore.

But like I said: that’s OKAY. With an artist like Shania Twain, who more than proved her presence in the music industry in the first decade of her career and then took a lengthy break, she doesn’t exactly have to continue knocking it out of the park when she knocked the ball so far out of the park years ago that we are still looking for it (her third studio album from 1997, Come On Over, would become the best-selling album by a female artist in any genre before Twain turned 40). In other words: she’s proved herself, so there isn’t always a need for artists like her to continue proving themselves. Her Greatest Hits album is still selling like hotcakes, no doubt. I’m sure she and the ex-hubby of her best friend have enjoyed many a meal off the royalties of those babies. Now is not a terrible album. If you like Shania, I will still encourage you to listen to it. There are some definite highlights. But we just have to accept that the old Shania exists in the past, and this is the current Shania. And that’s okay. Because, at the end of the day, if you really love an artist, you will continue to support them no matter where they take you on their journey as artists (case in point, guess who has tickets for the Shania Now Tour next June!)

Jeffrey’s favorite tracks from Now: “Life’s About to Get Good”, “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed”, “Home Now”, “Poor Me” (I know I just criticized this song, but lyrical content aside, I do kinda like it), “We Got Something They Don’t”, “I’m Alright” and “You Can’t Buy Love”