in The People's Album

Let’s go girls.

I don’t want to jinx anything, but I am feeling a bit of a second wind on The People’s Albums. Maybe it’s the “light at the end of the tunnel” aspect of finally cracking the top ten best-selling albums of all time, but we’ll see if I can keep up the pace of two albums per season.

This entry brings things a bit full circle, since this was the first artist I ever reviewed for The People’s Albums almost exactly ten years ago. I wouldn’t say that that earlier piece is quite as poorly written as I expected, but comparing it to my response to this album, it does illuminate how much more open to frivolous pop music I’ve become in the intervening decade.

Album: Come On Over
Artist: Shania Twain
Release Date: November 4, 1997
Copies Sold in the U.S.: 17.7 million

Why Was This Popular?

Because America Loves Women With The Prerogative To Have A Little Fun

Though this album is number 9 on the list of best-selling albums in the U.S., it does bear the status of being number one in a particularly important category. Come On Over is the best-selling album by a female artist in the United States (though there is one more album ahead of it with some very sizeable female contributions). So one does have to ask what exactly makes this album the most successful representation of womanhood in regards to the pop music album. It’s obviously a bit of a silly question, since you could also just categorize it as an album with a lot of appeal that happened to have been made by a woman. Either way, I am not the most qualified person to be ruminating on this question for obvious reasons; but I will still do the best I can with my admittedly limited perspective.

First off, I would say the key to any album reaching that upper echelon of popular appeal is being able to appeal to both men and women and anyone in-between. Come On Over would appear to be this kind of album, since there is something in Shania Twain’s persona and sound established on this album that would undeniably appeal to men. In the videos for the album’s most iconic singles, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much”, Shania is strutting her stuff, looking hot and cool and ready for a good time. She has that consummate “fun girl” vibe that straight men love, and the fact that her music is similarly easy to have a good time with gives her a kind of sex appeal pared with a wit and knowing wink that made her a bit more savvy than the average pop star.

This I think is also what made her alternately appealing to women — this ability to appear sexy in her videos while also retaining a sense of agency and independence. In “Man! I Feel Like a Woman”, Shania is clearly the one in charge of her snack-buffet of a backing band while sending up the rocker subservience of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love” video. Then in the “That Don’t Impress Me Much” video, she seems to be doing perfectly fine on her own despite being stranded in a desert, as she expresses skepticism toward any man who tries to impress her, be he a rocket scientist, Elvis, or Brad Pitt. I have to assume that this playful frustration with men is what ultimately bolstered Come On Over’s sales the most, since Shania Twain does at the end of the day seem to appeal more to women than men. Meanwhile, the “relatable hot girl” persona she established feels like a direct descendant of some of the more recent country/pop/rock superstars.

This inevitably leads me to the topic of Taylor Swift, a singer who men also like when she’s playing up her hot girl persona, but whom women feel an intimate connectedness to even if she’s not really that much of an everywoman. In many ways, Shania Twain is the proto-Taylor, though Shania was always more content to just have a little fun and be herself while singing her songs without injecting much of her personal life into her lyrics. Taylor on the other hand, was shrewd enough to take the Shania Twain formula and fill her lyrics with all kinds of confessional specificity drawn from her personal life, and thus drawing out even more obsessiveness in her diehard fans. Meanwhile, her journey from the pop-country world that Twain inhabited toward straight-up pop gave her an even broader appeal than her already broad appeal contained.

However, that shouldn’t take away from how radical Twain’s insistent pushing up against the pop/country line really was in the late ‘90s. While country, pop, and rock music had been intermingling pretty heavily by this period, due to the emergence of the likes of Garth Brooks and the Chicks, Shania Twain cared far less about “country cred” than any of the other big Nashville artists. This, of course, could have been because she was always a bit of a Nashville outsider, hailing from the great white north of Canada, and finding a particularly un-country collaborator in producer and ex-husband Robert “Mutt” Lange. 

I don’t really remember what The Woman In Me (Twain and Lange’s prior album) sounds like, since I last heard it ten years ago, but I do remember that album at least sounding relatively like a country album. While country is still the easiest genre in which to categorize Come On Over, it does bear a lot of resemblance to the Top 40 rock and pop music of its era. Clearly, Mutt Lange was able to infuse Twain’s country leanings into something slightly reminiscent of his Def Leppard and AC/DC days, even if this album still sounds fairly far removed from anything you could consider “rocking”. Still, much like a great rock record, it’s not hard to imagine the album’s mid-heavy production sounding great blasting out of car stereos, whether it was coming from a CD player or you were hearing one of the album’s twelve (that’s right, twelve) singles on the radio.

Did This Deserve To Be Popular?

So you do have to ask, does this album still hold up now that it’s far removed from the CD and radio era? Considering how much more open-minded music snobs have become toward pop music since this album was released (or even since I started doing The People’s Albums), the album actually has aged quite well. It would explain why in spite of this album’s mixed reviews at the time, it managed to nab a spot on the most current iteration of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums, which would’ve been a bit hard to imagine on that list’s original 2003 incarnation.

It seems like a lot of the more negative reviews of Come On Over at the time took umbrage with the fact that the album called itself country but was just so darn pop. This feels like irrelevant nitpicking, since having debates about what genre or sub-genre a certain artist or album fits into is for me one of the more boring music conversations one can have. If the music sounds good, it sounds good. I don’t know why the category or genre it must fit into should dictate that.

Of course, maybe music critics at the time just had a hard time justifying how music this fun and effervescent could be of any substance, which I suppose is fair. The lyrics here are rarely anything that profound, although an off-hand reference to PMS in a pop song is always welcome. Also, there is something vital about seeing a woman strut her rock star stuff so effortlessly in the same way you could imagine a man doing it, though it’s clear that that wouldn’t get the same kind of skepticism as far as their integrity that Twain encountered.

And honestly, I’m guilty of this! It’s evidenced by my hesitancy to embrace Shania Twain when I reviewed The Woman In Me ten years ago. But with Come On Over, it’s even easier to grasp her appeal, as this album is for the most part, wall-to-wall bangers. The album’s first four tracks especially (led off by “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!”) set it off on a thrilling start, even if the wishy-washy ballad “From This Moment” does slow things down a bit. And while the album is on the longer side at 60 minutes, it feels appropriate for the blockbuster, stadium-sized sound of the songs, especially when the majority of them are as effortlessly agreeable and infectious as the phrase “come on over”.

Would I Pay Money For This?

I started listening to Come On Over shortly after I finished my last People’s Album review in early June, which means I’ve spent the better chunk of this summer listening to it, and it’s just been a great, breezy, upbeat summer album. One that I would’ve had a great time listening to even if it wasn’t for a self-imposed writing assignment. Not only that, it’s been one of the more pleasant discoveries to come out of me doing these reviews, up there with Wide Open Spaces by The Chicks and Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morisette. That is to say, I would absolutely pay money for this, even though I mentioned that it feels like a perfect CD album and I don’t have much use for buying CDs these days. Still, I would buy this one on some mammoth multi-disc vinyl reissue, despite the fact that Come On Over is a little unsuited for that format. Let’s go girls, indeed.

Next Time on the People’s Albums: We’ll keep things in the 90s pop-country vein, as I investigate No Fences by Garth Brooks and he acquaints us with his friends in low places.