Cheap Date

Ever wish you could sample a bunch of new music, without plunking down $16 a pop for a handful of albums by artists that you're curious, but not sure about?

Well, Columbia Records has just released Cheap Date, a sampler of 16 songs by newer artists on its affiliated labels. From the retro '60s vibe of the Coral to the more modern rock stylings of Pete Yorn, the disc offers a great entrée to a number of potential hitmakers. You may already have some familiarity with Yorn, Stereomud and the Ataris, but chances are you haven't heard the Raveonettes, the Mooney Suzuki, Fingertight, or Kenna.


Shania Twain - Up! Shania Twain

Shania just couldn't make up her mind.

After the monstrous crossover success of her last album, thanks in part to pop remixes of "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" and "That Don't Impress Me Much," was she now a pop artist or still a country girl? She's had more than five years to think about it (Come on Over was released in 1997), and rather than choose sides, Twain and producer/co-writer husband Mutt Lange mixed three different versions of her new fourth album, Up!

If you buy the CD in the U.S., you'll find the same songs on two different CDs — one mixes the songs to have a more pop rock flair and the other with more acoustic guitars and a country audience in mind. Apparently, Twain thinks audiences outside the U.S. don't like country music — the international release of Up! replaces the country mix disc with exotic "world music" mixes of the songs.

No matter how you mix it, Up! lives up to its title. This is a fun, upbeat collection of songs that opens with its infectious title track (which she spotlighted on the Super Bowl halftime show) that looks at the little trials of everyday life and concludes: "There ain't no explanation why/things like that can make you cry/just gotta learn to have a laugh/can only go up from here."

She follows that with the strutting flirt anthem "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!" Things slow down a little with the twangier celebration of "everywoman" in "She's Not Just a Pretty Face" and the Spanish guitar-augmented "Juanita," another "girl-power" song about the "restless river" that "lives in the heart of every woman in the world."

Up! offers a healthy share of pretty adult contemporary ballads — "Forever and Always" streams warm synthesizers atop a slowly galloping beat as she croons "Cause I'm keeping you forever and for always/we will be together all of our days/wanna wake up every morning to your sweet face/always." Then there's "It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing," a slow, breathy heartbreak ballad, and the gently Spanish guitar-strummed closer, "When You Kiss Me."

In between, she funks things up a bit on "Ain't No Particular Way," and reprises the stop-start template of "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" on "Nah!," a catchy "it was fun but I wouldn't date you again" song. She scatters a couple of social statements in between the love 'em and left 'em numbers, too. In "Ka-Ching," she fashions a condemnation of society's runaway consumerism ("we live in a greedy little world/that teaches every little boy and girl/to earn as much as they can possibly/then turn around and spend it foolishly"). And in "I Ain't Going Down," she paints a memorable portrait of a teen mother who rises above the insensitivity of her family and friends to raise her daughter right.

At 19 tracks, Up! runs a bit long (there are certainly a couple of average efforts in its second half that could have been trimmed), but it's a surprisingly strong disc throughout, with various tracks tailor made for different markets - country radio, adult contemporary love songs, modern top 40 pop. Up! closes with a couple of its most pop-radio ready tracks in "I'm Not in the Mood" and the saucy "In My Car (I'll Be The Driver)" a punchy followup to "That Don't Impress Me Much," wherein she tells a lover that "there's nothing she wouldn't do" for him, but then warns "but in my car I'll be the driver/In my car, I'm in control."

Twain and Lange have put together a smart collection aimed at pleasing every segment of the fanbase she's won over the past few years. No matter how you mix them, these are well-done pop songs, but Up! abounds with choices for the listener — if the variety of sounds and styles on one version of the album isn't enough for you, just pop in the other disc with the same songs done differently!