Crowd-pleasing Shania racking up sales with 'Up'
Published: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 11:23 p.m.
Shania Twain is probably the most user-friendly musician on the planet right now.
Everything about her current album, ''Up!'', is g enetically engineered to please as many people as possible, particularly the unprecedented decision to record three different versions of each song to appeal to different tastes.
And, oh, how it's succeeding. Twain's album has topped Billboard's album chart for the month it has been out, racking up more than 2 million in sales in the United States alone during the most important stretch of the year for retailers.
She's left other big-name divas with new music - Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Faith Hill - in the dust.
Only Eminem is her equal as the most popular figure in music.
''I think only what the public thinks,'' Twain said. ''If they don't like my music, why should I bother making it? I make music for the fans. I record music commercially because I'm making it for them to listen to.''
With her husband, record producer Robert John (Mutt) Lange, Twain has crafted an insanely catchy album of anthems.
Many musicians write personal songs in the hope that others can relate; Twain leaves out the personal and tries strictly for the universal.
''Up!'' includes a couple of life-gets-better songs, a couple of wildly-in-love songs and several every-woman songs: putting up a brave face because her man has left, commiserating with a sad single, and taunting an old boyfriend who wants to get back together.
She may also be the first to hook into a societal trend - women who max out on their credit cards because they can't resist Sunday at the mall - and turn it into a song.
''We all understand what we have in common with the people around us,'' she said. ''What I do is put that into songs. Part of the fun for me, the kick, is that I'm able to relate to the public.''
Her last two albums both sold more than 10 million copies, and there's little reason to believe ''Up!'' won't do the same.
The chief knock on Twain is that her music is soulless, that true emotion is sacrificed in the effort to be popular.
In other words, her songs are fast-food hamburgers instead of steakhouse filets.
Twain's not buying it.
''What is too commercial?'' the Canadian songstress asked. ''If you look at the Beatles, it doesn't get any more commercial than that. They were as commercial as anybody gets, but they had the writing ability to back it up.''
With her previous album, ''Come on Over,'' Twain experimented with different mixes of the songs, giving birth to the idea to make three separate versions of ''Up!''
North American buyers get two discs: a version of the songs in pop-rock style and another with country fiddles and steel guitars. The latter disc is more overtly country than anything she's done recently.
''You've got a pop disc and an even more pop disc,'' said country music writer Robert Oermann. ''It's good value for the money.''
International buyers get the pop-rock disc and another, recorded in India, that's a combination of world and dance music.
Twain thought of the Gipsy Kings when making that disc. She invites North American listeners to check out those versions for free on her Web site.
''Whatever your persuasion, she'll give you something you like,'' Oermann said.
Contrast that approach with Faith Hill, who has tried to expand her audience with a disc that strays from the country path. Twain simply takes every path.
''I like that she does that unapologetically,'' said Beverly Keel, a music professor at Middle Tennessee State University. ''A lot of artists try to act like it's not what they're doing or they make excuses for it. She says, 'I'm going to make it as accessible as possible.'''
Twain, an intensely private person who moved to an estate in Switzerland after her breakout success, said she had the same existential crisis as others following Sept. 11.
Why make a record? What is it going to mean at such a harrowing time?
Her response was to go positive, not introspective. She had already written the song ''Up!'', so she and Lange wrote others in the same mode.
The 19-song album is a ballad-free zone, and the song titles include 10 exclamation points!
''I've always tried to write music that was inspirational,'' she said.
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