While international crises like the Spanish oil-tanker spill have captured the world’s attention, another disaster has gone largely unreported: the global exclamation-point shortage. Comic-book superheroes have recently been forced to end every statement with a period; electronics stores have had to pose blowout-sales pitches in the form of a question; one pressing of the ”Airplane!” DVD even had to go out as just plain ”Airplane.” Turns out the deficit can be traced to Shania Twain and her producer husband, Robert ”Mutt” Lange, who, being richer than God, bought up nearly the entire world-wide supply in advance of releasing Up!, which includes such fare as ”I’m Not in the Mood (To Say No)!,” ”I’m Gonna Getcha Good!,” and the doubly exclamatory ”Waiter! Bring Me Water!”
After looking over a track list that uses 10 exclamation points in just 19 song titles, less excitable music fans may feel that Twain is in need of a semi-colonic. The thing is, the Twain-Langes acquired the right to all those exclamation points (and their Swiss chalet) the old-fashioned way: They earned them, by mercilessly attacking every unprotected cranial pleasure center with hook upon brain-burrowing hook. No one will pretend that the successor to Twain’s 19-times-platinum ”Come On Over” bears the musical integrity or emotional fiber of a Dixie Chicks record. But those who harbor a flagrant taste for bubblegum – as the prophet said, you know what that is and you still want some – may feel that happy days really are here again, the likes of which we haven’t heard since Benny and Bjorn hung up their spouses and their spandex.
The fab Swedish four do repeatedly spring to mind, not just because the chorus to ”C’est la Vie” is a little too close to ”Dancing Queen” for comfort. Twain’s a one-woman glee club; ”Up!” is like ABBA ”Gold” without all the melancholy. If there’s some inadvertent homage there, Lange also harks back to his days as a hard-rock kingpin; ”Nah!” and ”Waiter! Bring Me Water!,” with their power chords and layered male backing vocals, are nothing if not Def Leppard made distaff and down-home. The latter song, ”Up!”’s most irresistible, puts Twain in a restaurant with a louse who’s ignoring her to leer at someone more beautiful. (Abject realism is not necessarily among the album’s primary merits.) A mock-Japanese lilt in the verses gives way to the Leppard influence showing its spots in the refrain, wherein Twain prepares to douse her wayward date. It’s the world’s first narrative Asian-country-hair-metal anthem, and a genre that’s been too long in coming, if you ask me.
”Waiter!” is one number that’s clearly superior on the ”red,” or pop-rock, disc. As you’ve probably heard, ”Up!” is a two-CD set in which each of the 19 songs has its doppelganger in a ”green” country disc geared toward Twain’s original fan base. Twain released separate mixes for separate international markets with 1997’s ”Come On Over,” but here the dual versions in the twofer are almost entirely distinct recordings. Fansites are already rife with reports of country buffs tossing out the pop disc. The green copy would have to get a slight nod; ballads that tend to get lost in a New Age wash on the red edition warm up in countrified translations ladled with so much pedal steel, banjo, and mandolin that they almost make ”O Brother” seem like wan pop crossover. But for those of us who feel like white trash some days and Eurotrash on others, it’s a near toss-up. Half the fun is wondering whether a ”red” whistling synth will translate into a ”green” fiddle. And the later, livelier stretches of the album (Lange inexplicably prefers to save the most rockin’ stuff for last) do favor the red approach. You don’t want to miss the musical marriage of Joe Elliott and Agnetha just because of your sentimental attachment to a Dobro.
Twain has included a note suggesting that you play different versions depending on your mood – in other words ”Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.” Sometimes you feel like tandoori, too, apparently. There’s yet a third version of the album – an ”Eastern”-flavored ”blue” one – that replaces the country disc in overseas markets; judging from the two downloadable blue tracks on her website, its mixture of electronica and Bollywood-style strings is truly and deeply nutty. Twain’s note won’t dissuade anyone from assuming that this whole multiple-mix idea is really about people pleasing – and planet pleasing – as an extreme sport. Yet playing armchair producer and doing comparison tests is so entertaining, the cumulative package is greater than the sum of its parts. The sheer exuberance and joy of craftsmanship in this double-”Up!”-manship don’t feel like mercenary insincerity. They resemble something like actual generosity… not to put too fine a point on it.