This Fire

Paula Cole

Imago / Warner Brothers Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I recently experienced a first for me as a parent. When Paula Cole burst forth onto AOR radio with her hot "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?" my daughter, who was then all of 12 months old, would start bopping back and forth in her car seat or highchair to the rhythm. When she figured out the mechanics of standing, she would sway - and eventually fall - pretty close to the tempo of the song. I ended up going out and buying her the CD single for her first birthday.

If only the rest of her second album This Fire was as solid. There are some excellent moments on this one, but for the most part, Cole wanders somewhat aimlessly in a haze of frustration, freedom and anger.

While it has been overplayed to death on the radio, there is no denying that "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?" is an excellent song. The main character's thoughts flow from when she first met the man of her dreams who would sweep her off her feet to today - where the only sweeping being done is the kitchen floor by her. Her "John Wayne," meanwhile, spends more time with his cronies than with her. Ka-pow.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Cole - who reminds me a lot of Tori Amos, without the weirdness and with even more hystrionics - seems to write a lot about frustrations women feel from leering and sexual innuendoes ("No more sex-starved teachers trying to touch my ass" from "Tiger") to societal views of a strong-minded and strong-willed woman ("Call me a bitch in heat" from "Throwing Stones"), this album is an emotional purge for Cole. She seems to want to express her individuality and her freedom to be a woman of the '90s - which could also explain the reason she maintains the disgusting habit of not shaving her underarms. (Four words: shave yer fuckin' pits! It wasn't attractive with Patti Smyth, either.)

The most recent single, "I Don't Want To Wait," shows off the range of Cole's vocals even better than her first hit, and seems to justify the success she's had so far. Even the track "Hush, Hush, Hush," featuring Peter Gabriel, blew me away when I first heard it on my daughter's CD single.

And while Cole's musicianship is by no means in question - she is a much more controlled pianist than Amos, and she plays a much wider variety of instruments - her songwriting still leaves quite a bit to be desired. Songs like "Me" shine, while others like "Carmen" and "Mississippi" fail to catch my interest.

Another disturbing feature is Cole's use - or, should I say, misuse - of vocals, namely the orgasmic-cum-primitive groans and growls passing for vocals on tracks like "Tiger" and "Nietzche's Eyes." Even my wife cringed from time to time.

Some of my readers may argue that I will never be qualified to review this one or to understand it, for the simple reason that I posess a penis. I can hear them now: "You'll never understand it, 'cause you're a man." Possibly - but let me argue that I found "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?" to be a very poignant work, and even made me wonder if I was spending enough time with the missus. Still, I admit there may be some merit to that argument.

And it's not that I thought This Fire was a terrible album. I've listened to it five times in the last week - three times in the day that I wrote this review - and it failed to capture my interest enough (save for a few songs) to rank as a great effort. It's passable, though it does get a little better with repeated listens.

There's no doubt that Cole has earned her moment in the spotlight - and if Amos continues to decline as she has her last two albums, she could become the next leader of the acoustic "grrl" movement. I just wish that there was a little more than three songs to recommend on This Fire to justify buying it.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Imago / Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.