Complaining that a Shania Twain record lacks depth is like faulting a roller coaster for not having much of a plot. Twain's producer-songwriter-husband, Robert John "Mutt" Lange, has specialized in the delights of nuanced superficiality since his days slicking down tracks for the Cars and Def Leppard. On 1995's The Woman in Me, he focused his attention on a singer with a warmer voice than Joe Elliott and a cuter tummy than Ric Ocasek, added a little pedal steel and fiddle, and started making down payments on a Swiss château. Though Twain's latest, 2002's two-disc Up! (Mercury Nashville), is unrelenting in its deployment of exclamation points (10! In 19 titles! Including two in "Waiter! Bring Me Water!"), the music swoops and sweeps less dramatically than on previous records. Each CD contains the same songs, with "pop" mixes on the red disc and "country" mixes on the green. (A third, blue disc, released overseas, is "more rhythmic with an Eastern influence. Way fun!" as Twain enthuses in the CD booklet.)
That gimmick will do nothing to counter the accusations of pandering that Twain draws from folks who can't distinguish between soothing and numbing, between bubble bath and Darvocet. But if Lange and Twain, at their most complacent, over-accommodate an easy-listening sensibility until their sound fades from pretty to bland, I wish that's the worst I could say about the competition: Faith Hill, for instance, clobbers ballads so viciously you'd think she resents the fact that fame disqualifies her from an American Idol berth. And at their best—as on the hit "Forever and for Always," when guitar and synth ebb into the sort of multilayered swell that a more "seriously minded" producer like Daniel Lanois consistently reduces to mush—the couple create a space that's epic in scale but homey in feel, like a three-hour Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster about a woman tweezing her eyebrows.
Shania Twain plays KeyArena at 7:30 p.m. Fri., June 18. $45–$80.