Review Summary: Massachusetts singer-songwriter Paula Cole delivers a haunting, addictive performance on her sophomore album, with Cole's unapologetic nature being a real highlight.
Massachusetts singer-songwriter Paula Cole delivers a haunting, addictive performance on her sophomore album, This Fire
. The album gets its haunting vibe from Cole's unapologetic introspection she displays on each track, while the addictive nature comes from the instrumentation employed. To compare to similar artists, Cole can be as angry as Alanis Morissette, as wispy as Fiona Apple, as innocent as Jewel, and as smitten as Sarah McLachlan, but definitely presents herself in her music in a stunningly unique fashion. Essentially, This Fire
represents Cole's coming out and into her own - her debut album basically went unacknowledged by many - and the results are splendid.
is supported by three singles - Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?
, I Don't Want to Wait
, and Me
, with the former two receiving major airplay - that are absolutely essential listening. Cole was nominated for a Grammy in 1998, thanks in part to these three hits. Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?
is one of the more upbeat numbers found on This Fire
, with lush acoustic guitars strumming to a basic high-hat/snare combination with Cole's doo-doodoo-doo vocal ad-libbing starting the track wonderfully. In the prechoruses and choruses, her sung vocals are extremely fragile and elegant, but in the bridge she becomes much more assertive, especially when she sings, "I am wearing my new dress tonight, but you don't, but you don't even notice me - say goodbyes." Her allusions and references to integral cowboy figures, such as asking where her Lone Ranger or John Wayne are, add to the mystique of the track, and her ad-libbed outro is one of the most special aspects of the track. Along with the subtle ironies she disperses throughout, it comes as no surprise that the song was such a success in the late '90s. Meanwhile, album closer I Don't Want to Wait
is another assuredly-familiar track, serving as the theme song to Dawson's Creek
and receiving tremendous exposure elsewhere. The track is arguably Cole's best vocal performance on This Fire
, with her arpeggiated chords and soft acoustic passages complementing her well. "You're wearing your anguish again; believe me, I know the feeling: it sucks you into the jaws of anger," she sings, before finishing her thought with, So you look at me a little more deeply - all we have is this very moment - and I don't want to do what his father, and his father, and his father did, I wanna be here now" with resolute, resounding vocals that soar above the instrumentation.
Fortunately, those three tracks are not the only standout tracks that Cole's defiant soul-searching percolates through. Peter Gabriel, who worked with Cole in the past, is a guest artist on Hush, Hush, Hush
. Behind somber piano and funereal flute, Cole's lines of "All your life you kept it hidden inside; now when you step, you stumble, you die" are forlorn, yet gripping. The introduction of a sweeping orchestral arrangement follows Gabriel's vocal introduction, adding a sepulchral dimension to the beautiful track. Hush, Hush, Hush
is stripped down - it's just the two vocalists, her piano, and the strings - but it is nevertheless one of the most radiant tracks. One other track that must be mentioned is This Fire
's opener, Tiger
, in which Cole asserts her tough-girl attitude, but also expresses her femininity. Musically, the track is backed by a looped high-hat and snare beat, with palpable keyboards to support Cole's antagonized, turbulent vocals.
is seemingly a coming-of-age tale in four minutes: a girl coming into her own as a woman, who is no longer shy and introverted but expressive and outspoken: "I'm so tired of being shy, I'm not that girl anymore, I'm not that straight 'A' anymore," she begins in one of the song's verses, finishing with "Now I wanna sit with my legs wide open and laugh so loud that the whole damn restaurant will turn and look at me: 'Look at the tiger jumping out of her mouth." Cole's aggressive nature carries over beyond the chorus and into the other verses with unrelenting fire: "No more sex-starved teachers trying to touch my ass
; I can finally be a teenager at age 26. Go to Hell lions, tigers and bears, I'm not afraid of you anymore - my fear tore apart like fifty balloons and I'm thrown around the room like party confetti now." If one is looking for a single passage where Cole's unapologetic, recalcitrant self-examining takes centerstage on the album, it can obviously be found in Tiger
. Cole's defiance turns to that inexplicable coming-of-age confidence - she masterfully weaves her tale of anxiety and timidity to a new story: one of assuredness and security.
In short, This Fire
is Cole's shining moment, where she unabashedly sings of her vulnerabilities and sorrows with a remarkable passion and fury. Tiger
is a remarkable track in which Cole confidently, unashamedly shares the transformation of a girl growing up and declaring her tenacity, which would likely delight Lillith Fair concert-goers. The album's hits - Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?
, I Don't Want to Wait
, and Me
- are also essential listening, as well as the somber Hush, Hush, Hush
, featuring Peter Gabriel, who clearly has inspired Cole on her sophomore album, and also the at-times intense Throwing Stones
. Cole's sweeping keyboards and acoustic guitar parts are executed well, and her backing band is steady in support for the passionate Cole. In the end, This Fire
is an excellent listen that clearly showcases Cole's growth as a singer/songwriter.
Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?
I Don't Want to Wait