Paula Cole

Amen

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AllMusic Review by

Thanks to Paula Cole's appearance on the first Lilith Fair and "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?," This Fire didn't really take off until nearly a year after its 1996 release; plus, its closer "I Don't Want to Wait" became nearly omnipresent in 1998. So, the gap between This Fire and its sequel, Amen, didn't feel all that long, but a cursory listen to Amen reveals that Cole matured considerably during those three years. Amen is the work of a professional record-maker, someone who not only knows how to craft a song, but knows how to craft sound. It's certainly in the same vein as This Fire, yet tighter and subtler, and fits right into adult alternative pop radio circa 1999. She may tread uncomfortably close to the smooth, sweetly cloying pop of Sarah McLachlan, but Cole somehow became convinced that she was a soul singer. So, the pretty music is underpinned with light hip-hop rhythms or R&B chord progressions, while she pours out passion through her voice and lyrics. She may get carried away with self-righteous naïveté and clichéd liberal dogma, but such impassioned beliefs give Amen greater weight, grit, and character than the average adult alternative pop album. Also, she saves most of her lyrical excess through strong, assured singing that's soulful but not overdone (the exception is when she dips into rap on "Rhythm of Life," which is positively embarrassing, especially when she's supported by scratching). Despite the occasional sophomoric lyric, Cole never sounds as strident as she occasionally did on This Fire, and the entire album is clearly the work of an artist who is more assured than ever before. Musically, that results in a stronger album than its predecessor, even if it lacks singles as grabbing or memorable as "Cowboys" or "Wait."

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