ADRIAN THRILLS: Giddy up! Shania Twain gallops back to the top
Shania Twain: Queen of Me (EMI)
Verdict: Ready to rule again
Raye: My 21st Century Blues (Human Re Sources)
Verdict: Long-delayed, but worth the wait
The Waeve: The Waeve (Transgressive)
Verdict: Engaging side-project
Before Shania Twain started breaking sales records with 1997’s Come On Over, the idea of a country-pop singer becoming a global superstar seemed far-fetched.
With certified sales of more than 30 million, and claims that the true figure is closer to 40 million, Come On Over is not just the biggest country album ever — it’s one of the biggest sellers across the board. At the end of the 1990s, Shania was impossible to avoid. Crossover hits such as That Don’t Impress Me Much and Man! I Feel Like A Woman! were never off the airwaves and the Come On Over arena tour was a box office juggernaut. Among those paying attention was a young Taylor Swift, who admits she ‘learned from the best’ in following Twain’s blueprint for success.
For the original queen of country-pop, though, things didn’t work out as expected. Next album Up! was another huge hit, but the Canadian then slipped from the limelight. She nearly lost her singing voice after damage to her vocal cords, linked to a diagnosis of Lyme disease. Her marriage to producer Mutt Lange fell apart in 2010 after he had an affair with her best friend.
Talent: Before Shania Twain started breaking sales records with 1997’s Come On Over, the idea of a country-pop singer becoming a global superstar seemed far-fetched
Queen of Me: The omens for the new album are better than before. Arriving in the wake of a Netflix documentary, Not Just A Girl, and a festival appearance with Harry Styles at Coachella, its mix of country and pop finds Shania back to her buoyant best
Performer: Her voice is now deeper and huskier than before, but the more mature timbre suits her new material, allowing Shania to tentatively push a few boundaries
She returned to the studio, after a 15-year absence, for 2017’s Now, but that proved a lacklustre comeback. Despite being a candid reflection of her personal turmoil — in a storyline worthy of an old Nashville standard, she’s now married to her former best friend’s ex, Frédéric Thiébaud — it lacked her old assertiveness. The omens for new album Queen Of Me are better. Arriving in the wake of a Netflix documentary, Not Just A Girl, and a festival appearance with Harry Styles at Coachella, its mix of country and pop finds Shania back to her buoyant best. The heartache moments haven’t been banished for good, but this is the tale of an independent woman putting the bad times behind her.
A desire to live in the moment is the gist of opening track Giddy Up!, a trumpet-powered paean to the open road and the joys of 1990s radio-pop. It’s a theme echoed by the title track: ‘I’ve got a life, and so many other amazing things to do.’ Short of shouting ‘Let’s go girls!’, as she did in 1997, she couldn’t sound more upbeat.
Her voice is now deeper and huskier than before, but the more mature timbre suits her new material, allowing Shania to tentatively push a few boundaries: Waking Up Dreaming is softly-sung pop; Number One, with Ghostbusters hitmaker Ray Parker Jr. on backing vocals, is surprisingly funky.
The changes to her voice bring a warmer, more intimate tone to the slower songs. On Brand New, she adopts the conversational style of Taylor Swift in dissecting a toxic relationship and its digital footprint (‘I deleted our history, ’cause you’ll always be the same old you’). The Hardest Stone is all vocal murmurs and understated electronics.
There’s also the lovely Last Day Of Summer, co-written with singer Jack Savoretti. The song’s strummed guitars and dreamy harmonies strike a typical balance between pop and country, but also owe something to Savoretti’s nostalgic 2021 album, Europiana.
‘I can name the planets all by heart,’ sings Shania. The stars are aligning for her again.
The road to Raye’s first album has also been rocky. The South London singer (born Rachel Keen) isn’t a new name, having landed what was supposed to be a four-album deal with Polydor in 2014. Frustrated that the label wouldn’t let her release an album, she parted ways with them in 2021, and now releases music independently.
My 21st Century Blues is the emotionally-charged album the 25-year-old says she has always wanted to make and it captures a fascinating talent. Its 15 tracks skip between genres — jazzy piano pieces, bluesy guitar numbers, trip-hop, hip-hop and R&B — but it frames Raye as a versatile performer who can rap and sing softly, or let fly with venom.
Independent: The road to Raye’s first album has also been rocky. The South London singer (born Rachel Keen) isn’t a new name, having landed what was supposed to be a four-album deal with Polydor in 2014. Frustrated that the label wouldn’t let her release an album, she parted ways with them in 2021, and now releases music independently
Gifted: My 21st Century Blues is the emotionally-charged album the 25-year-old says she has always wanted to make and it captures a fascinating talent
The ‘broken glass’ of her late teens and early 20s provide plenty of inspiration. She vents her exasperation at the music business on Hard Out Here. ‘There is no wrath like a woman scorned . . . you were sitting on diamonds,’ she sings. Escapism, a No.1 single in January, paints a bleak picture of a descent into substance abuse (now thankfully behind her).
Her male partners don’t come out of this well, either. Channelling Amy Winehouse, the heart-wrenching Oscar Winning Tears is a big, orchestral ballad. Mary Jane tells of how one bad relationship drove her to drink. But despite the slings and arrows, her story is one of survival. ‘I’ve waited seven years for this moment,’ she tells us on closing track Fin. It’s been worth it.
Blur side-projects are arriving thick and fast ahead of the group’s two Wembley Stadium shows in July.
Last month saw drummer Dave Rowntree’s charming, but underpowered, solo debut, Radio Songs, while a new LP by Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz is three weeks away.
Guitarist Graham Coxon is also getting in on the act, with the first album from his new band The Waeve.
Music: Blur side-projects are arriving thick and fast ahead of the group’s two Wembley Stadium shows in July. Pictured: Rose Elinor Douglas and Graham Coxon of The Waeve
Formed with his musical (and romantic) partner Rose Elinor Dougall and pronounced ‘the wave’, the duo specialise in experimental, but tuneful, pop. Before taking up guitar, Graham was a sax player, and that instrument, multi-tracked for extra effect, dominates several songs, with Rose, who shares lead vocals, adding keyboards. It is an intriguing detour before July’s main event.
Shania Twain starts a UK tour at OVO Hydro, Glasgow, on September 14 (livenation.com). Raye begins her tour on March 5 at The Limelight, Belfast (ticketmaster.co.uk). The Waeve open on March 19 at Bristol Exchange thewaeveofficial.com).
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