The pressure to follow up a success as massive as Paula Cole's double
platinum recording, This Fire, may have gotten to the
singer/songwriter and keyboardist.
Coming in the wake of This Fire, her third album, Amen,
has none of the fresh idiosyncratic flair of the previous collection's
hit single "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" Nor does it have a song as
appealing and immediate as "I Don't Want to Wait," the bittersweet piano
ballad that became identified as a theme for the teen-skewed WB television
drama, "Dawson's Creek."
You can blame Cole for any shortcomings on Amen, despite its being
released as a band effort with drummer Jay Bellerose and guitarist Kevin
Barry. It was written in its entirety by Cole, who also is listed as the
Not to suggest that there wasn't a conscious attempt to make a commercially
viable project here. It leads off with the single, "I Believe in Love."
It's a string-drenched throwback to Gamble & Huff's Philly-soul sound
with just a touch of lush, Jimmy ("Wichita Lineman") Webbstyle
orchestration. Lyrically, it's about as deep as a Mac Davis tune or any
number of those assembly-line R&B ballads that Babyface or R. Kelly crank
Then, you get the title tune (RealAudio
excerpt). At first, the melody and arrangement are engaging. Cole's
greatest asset her dusky voice with its poignant edge
glides over gleaming electric and acoustic guitars and a perky drumbeat.
And then the lyrics turn pretentious, as Cole gets into a nonsensical
(zen?) listing of everything from Saddam Hussein and Republican witch-hunts
to Betty Page and the right to die all given the singer's
But Alanis Morissette already did something like this on her song, "Thank
U." Maybe they swapped notes at Lilith Fair.
On "La Tonya," Cole means to depict a tragic inner-city circumstance in
the first person. It may be sweetly sung but it still seems bogus. She's
much more in her element on the empowering relationship number, "Pearl" (RealAudio
excerpt) until you hear her sing, "Gotta face my Steppenwolf
gotta drag it through the mud." Yeesh! Nice guitar from Barry,
She's got a hell of a voice, but when you hear it in the service of such
banal lyrics, it seems like a real waste.
"Free" attempts to tap into the bittersweet vibe of "I Don't Want to
Wait." The reed sound that ignites "Suwannee Jo" is intriguing, until
Cole makes her entrance and contrives more dark, urban tale-spinning.
The most unintentionally hilarious moment on the album has to be "Rhythm
of Life" (RealAudio
excerpt), a slow-grooving number that begins with a bit of
scratching from DJ Premier of the rap group Gang Starr. The fun really
starts when Cole does her white-girl rap about "the critics and the cynics
that don't understand the lyrics" and then sings that she "began as Isis
the high priestess."
All hail mighty Paula!