One of the best things I have ever seen, aesthetically, was the part in the last Shania Twain tour during which she rode a circle around Montreal's Bell Centre on a pink neon saddle. Now, her first record since 2002, is like that pink neon saddle: over the top, laden with high femme significance, riotous and beautiful.
On first listen, there's a lot going on — reverb, hand claps, delicate keys, grids of percussion laid over augmented vocals, Spanish tunings, sing-along choruses, piano, weeping strings. It's all kind of historically minded, all kind of new. But with more listens, the saddle slows and dims dramatically; the excess never quite recedes, but the manic quality breaks apart, and an emotional quality emerges.
Shania has never been a feelings artist, but this is a feelings album — not quite a heartbreak album, but in spaces it hints at discussions of divorce, and finding a life after it. (Especially on "Poor Me," which stitches together thick electronic production and a voice that sounds tired, almost shot.)
The ballads are dense and uneasy, too. "Soldier" is the most melancholic thing Shania has produced; there's something intimate in how her words seem to fail, but she keeps trying to push through it with her old energy — to ride that saddle again.
This is a record bursting with indecision and excess, but that excess is revealing; we're shown more of Shania's emotion than ever here. It's enough to make Now one of the best pop albums of the year. (Mercury Nashville)