Album Review: Paula Cole – Raven
When Raven, the brand new album from singer-songwriter Paula Cole, arrived in our inbox a couple of weeks ago, I was a little apprehensive about what I might hear from the Massachusetts-born musician these days. I have to admit – I haven’t kept up with the goings-on of Paula since the late nineties when she was enjoying her peak commercial years, basking in chart-glory with some of the decade’s most intellectual and encapsulating hits.
Where Have All The Cowboys Gone and the incredible pop ballad, I Don’t Wanna Wait, a penning used as the theme song for teen drama, Dawson’s Creek, are Paula’s most recognized pennings and hits that helped her star burn bright throughout the best part of the nineties. While her efforts gained her a Grammy Award for Best New Artist nearing the end of the decade, the mainstream bubble appeared to deflate over the years that followed and the momentum that had helped the musician soar alongside fellow female singer-songwriters such as Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan and Jewel, gradually began to trail behind a new era of electro-pop singer-songwriters that had arrived to take over music’s mainstream.
Despite her profile being somewhat downsized over the past ten years, Paula continued to release a relatively successful string of studio records that have kept her in the fold and helped buff up her growing catalogue. Her last studio album, Ithica, was released in 2010 and was her final record under the wings – or more appropriately, within the claws – of a major label.
Paula Cole is now preparing for the unveiling of Raven, her sixth studio record and one that sees the musician taking on the music industry as an independent artist, doing everything from the writing and recording through to the promotion or the record herself while also allowing the musician freedom to fly as she regains her artistic control.
Upon diving into Raven the first thing we notice is that this collection is a lot more experimental than previous records released by the musician but it is the eclecticism and musical range that Raven soars with that keeps us intrigued as we make our way through the track listing.
The album starts off with Life Goes On, a lyrically reflective acceptance to life’s many challenges. Paula’s vocals are as crisp and precise as they were in her early years as they entwine within the songs numerous short stories, ushering us through each of the verses revealed throughout the track.
The following Strong Beautiful Woman, with its sentimental declaration of “Look within yourself and remember who you are”, sends a powerful message through Paula’s encouraging lyricism and the songs flowing rhythm while the albums lead single, Eloise, is a mid-tempo folk infused highlight that is draped in the singers beautiful breathy tones and a sweet and memorable instrumentation that touches on Paula’s commercial roots, appropriately more so than any other song on the record.
A deep bass drives Scream, an enchanting and sweet filling to the centre of the record. The verses are contrasting to the numbers sugary chorus’, allowing Paula’s vocals to skip through the tracks laid back arrangement.
Bass is an integral component to Billy Joe as it vibrates heavily throughout the number, presenting us with one of Raven’s shining moments as the singer tears through a vocal arrangement drenched in escapism and confidence.
The following Secretary reminds us of something usually reserved for the likes of Tori Amos with the songs semi-sordid lyrical content, telling of a man’s affair with his secretary and containing a dark, eclectic instrumental structure that differs significantly from the rest of the record. Angst is also a fundamental driving force in this song as Paula rips into the chorus with a chilling vocal release.
What’s so enlightening about Raven is how lyrically and musically illuminating it is. Paula’s previous material has done a fantastic job at capturing this songwriter’s incredible talent however it is with Raven that Paula’s craft has really found its wings, perhaps due to her freedom as an independent artist. It is tracks like Strong Beautiful Woman, Secretary and the albums lead single, Eloise, that continue to showcase Paula’s impeccable songwriting skill, a skill that Paula has once again mastered on Raven.