Shania Twain enumerates many kinds of loss on "Now," the first album she's released since the end of her marriage to producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, who helped the artist revolutionize country music in the 1990s with proudly pop-leaning hits like "That Don't Impress Me Much" and "Man! I Feel Like a Woman."
There's the loss of innocence she describes in "Poor Me," which appears to recount Twain's discovery that her husband was having an affair with her best friend. ("I wish he'd never met her," she sings, "Then everything would be the way it was.")
And there's the loss of trust she says she had to regain before she could love someone else in "Life's About to Get Good." (As it happens, that someone else turned out to be her best friend's former husband.)
But Lange didn't take everything from her, as "Now" makes clear. On this surprising yet frustrating album, due Friday, Twain shows that her taste for adventure and her commitment to polish remain intact without her longtime collaborator; indeed, it makes the case that the sonic finesse for which Lange was celebrated was likely as much Twain's doing as his.
Like her mega-selling "Come on Over" and "Up!" albums, "Now" — Twain's first record since 2002 — cuts a wide stylistic path, veering from rootsy numbers such as "Light of My Life" to windswept ballads like "I'm Alright" to whatever we'll call the zany "Let's Kiss and Make Up," which layers a folky acoustic lick over a pulsating tropical-house groove. It all sounds great, too, with contributions from a vast array of players and producers, including Matthew Koma, Jacquire King, guitarist Greg Leisz and fiddler Gabe Witcher.
The problem is Twain's singing. In interviews she's said that her traumatic divorce wasn't the only reason it took her so long to make "Now"; she was also suffering from a temporary loss of her voice related to Lyme disease. When her voice returned, she's said, it was lower and less flexible than before, and that works out OK in the slower, moodier stuff here.
That's not the case, though, in the uptempo material, which feels flat and robotic, just as Twain's performance at this year's Stagecoach festival did. In her heyday, Twain sang with an exuberance to match her and Lange's busy, vivid arrangements. But that attitude is sorely lacking from a party song like "More Fun," in which her exhortation to "get a little crazy and forget what happens later" is about as convincing as an ad in an airline magazine.