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17 juin 2007

Paula Cole sounds earnest and goopy on comeback album

COURAGE/ Paula Cole/ Decca

"Please forgive me all my seriousness/My so-called spirituality,'' Paula Cole sings on Courage, her first new album since 1999. "I'm just a mess.''

Cole has always teetered between high-mindedness and insecurity, and that hasn't changed on Courage. Neither has her voice, rich and tremulous with more than a touch of Joni Mitchell. And neither has her fondness for plush pop.

Lonely Town, with Herbie Hancock on piano, aims for the delicacy of a jazz standard. Love Light climbs like a Peter Gabriel song, with its anthem-tinged melody underpinned by a plucked Moroccan lute. Its lyrics begin with a bird thinking its reflection is its perfect mate; it dies crashing into a windowpane.

Cole made three albums in the 1990s and won the 1997 Grammy Award as best new artist after her plaintive hit Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? She completed an album after her 1999 release, Amen, but it was rejected by her label, and Cole largely dropped out of the music business, occasionally releasing songs on her Web site. She has been raising her daughter, Sky.

The songs on Courage trace a storyline from a bitter breakup -- "I stop talking and fade to bleak/Feeling insignificant, atrophied and weak'' -- to a new start: "I wanna stop the conversation/I wanna kiss you.'' While many of them were written with seasoned studio musicians, they sound heartfelt. But as the self-help bromides pile up and the arrangements thicken, all the seriousness gets mighty goopy.

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