From 2018’s vantage point, it’s easy to forget quite how big a star Shania Twain (born Eilleen Edwards) once was.
The Canadian country singer’s willingness to embrace rock riffs and her vampy style made her a crossover star of epic proportions – she nailed country, she nailed pop, she nailed empowering rock’n’roll, and the iconic hooded leopard print desert attire she rocked in the video for “That Don’t Impress Me Much” cemented her as a gay icon.
The stars aligned to make 1997’s Come On Over the best-selling album by a female artist in history, but for a full 15 years between 2002 and 2017, she didn’t release a single album.
This disappearance was largely down to Lyme disease – after being bitten by a tick, she suffered vocal paralysis and feared that she would never sing again.
You couldn’t tell it from her singing voice now; successful reconstruction surgery has left her vocals as warm and robust as ever, with maybe just a touch more rasp to them, like she’s sunk a whiskey too many.
It may also explain the wobble in her speaking voice, which makes her sound permanently on the verge of tears. And on stage in London at the O2 Arena she talks a lot: long, rambling paragraphs wind their way between songs, each culminating in a carefully remembered sentence that allows her to call out the name of the next song – cute, but after two hours of it, it starts to grate.
It seems that Twain’s energetic dancing days are behind her. The signature move now seems to be the stride, cowboy boots carrying her around the stage with such purpose that she appears to fill it in a matter of steps.
A handful of backing dancers do-si-do, but the most impressive moves come from a clever dancing projection during “Poor Me”, first dancing with Twain then around and with her, becoming ever more frantic along with the song.
She scatters new songs minimally throughout the set and their proximity to the hits brings out their hooks (”Life’s About To Get Good”) and emotive appeal (”I’m Alright”). The really big songs tower above the rest: “That Don’t Impress Me Much” blows through the O2 like a tornado of sass. A mass “You’re Still The One” singalong makes the arena – where an explosion of leopard print, billowing gowns and cowboy hats galore has turned North Greenwich into Nashville – feel like a living room filled with your best friends.
Twain’s desire to become one of those friends to us all seems heartfelt but leads to the show’s only real misstep – it takes on a variety show feel as audience members are invited on stage, followed by comics Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett who seem to have convinced Twain’s team that they are a lot more famous than they actually are.
This whole Butlins stage show saga disrupts the flow of the show and Twain has to work hard to get it back on track; an indulgent montage of some of her music videos while she changes does not help. A gloriously camp final section just about pulls it back, featuring the best use of chairs in a pop show since Britney Spears’s “Stronger”. By the time she closes with the healthy dose of empowerment and nostalgia that comes with “Man! I Feel Like a Woman”, Twain has well and truly proven it: she’s still the one.
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