1997, Music

Come On Over [Original Version] (1997) by Shania Twain

In Canada we have “Canadian Content” rules that necessitates radio DJs (and music video VJs!) play 35% Canadian music. As a Canadian alive in 1997, I have heard at least 7 of these songs ad nauseum. This album was gigantic in the US, yes, but I’m not sure it was as omnipresent as it was in Canada, where it was just everywhere. So, though I have never listened to a Shania Twain album in my life, I’ve heard much of this many, many times over.

But before I talk about this record which I know part of more than I would have ever guessed, I must disclose something: I hate Mutt Lange as a producer. His aesthetic is the very opposite of things I like in music:

  • when I like rough edges he does not,
  • where I like emotion, he likes professionalism,
  • where I like the odd mistake in a performance, he likes things that are infinitely replicable.

It’s honestly a shock, listening to his late ’80s and ’90s production efforts that he didn’t manage to turn AC/DC into hair metal. The guy doesn’t like rock music, and he doesn’t like soul. So, you’ve been warned.

And Mutt is all over this slick country pop record. But to think of it as “country pop” is a bit misleading. Pop in 1997 was quite R&B inflected and this is not, there’s maybe the trace of it on one song. Instead, it’s country mixed with the pop of another time. It’s like Mutt decided to produce Shania as if she was Bon Jovi (or, yes, Def Leppard). The production is the kind of production you would associate with safe, middle of the road “pop rock” with huge choruses. Only there’s a country twist!

I like country music. But this is barely country. I don’t know who struck first, whether it was Shania or Garth, or someone else – as I don’t know ’90s country – but this record has to have played a major role in the destruction of country as a commercially viable genre separate from pop music. Listen, I get that music evolves. But when music evolves into the mainstream it’s more like devolution than evolution. An interesting path forward for country could have involved numerous other genres, but not mainstream pop rock. This record, perhaps more than any other, created the pop country/arena country/party country world we live in now, where country is awful and barely reminiscent of anything in its long tradition. (Country songs were once about failed romances and murder and driving trucks. Now they’re about hooking up and drinking.) A world where the only thing that differentiates country from pop is a twangy voice or a pedal steel or a fiddle.

But getting upset at Mutt, or bemoaning the state of modern country music and this record’s influence on it does actually ignore the music on this record. And, as much as I want to claim this is a terrible record, Twain and Lange have written a bunch of pretty catchy songs and very few songs that are not catchy. (I feel like “When” is far and away the weakest link.) I don’t love the lyrics – they are mostly pretty damn mundane, though they’re sure loaded since Shania and Mutt broke up – but the melodies are almost universally compelling. And even though I hate the production, the performances are all strong – Twain sounds destined to fulfill this role of uniting country and arena rock. The best song here is probably “You’re Still the One”; not lyrically (again, I don’t love these lyrics) but the melody is so strong it sounds like a classic melody from another era. (“From This Moment” also has a really catchy, classic melody, but it’s soooo over-done.)

So I don’t like this, and I don’t like its influence on the future of the genre. But I must concede that it is well done. Boo.


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