Paula Cole’s highly successful sophomore album, This Fire ignited the artist as someone to take notice of. And through her steady appearances during the original run of Lilith Fair, the album slowly began to build steam and Cole began to develop a wider audience, eventually garnering the songwriter multiple Grammy nominations and a single win for Best New Artist and two sizeable hits (“Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” and “I Don’t Want To Wait”).
Suddenly it seemed that everyone knew who Paula Cole was.
Now after more than a decade from the release of This Fire and a couple of understated albums in-between, Cole returns with Ithaca, her fifth effort.
Fueled heavily by emotion, as Cole’s confessional music tends to be, Ithaca follows a similar softer side last displayed on her last album, Courage. Here she reunites with producer Kevin Killen, her collaborator from her 1994 debut, Harbinger. And while her powerful voice is still beautiful, emotive and well controlled, there is little memorable impact to be heard on these songs, many of them floating in languid territory.
“Music In Me,” wisely chosen as the album’s first single, is one of few highlights found here. The track is a radio-primed, passionate, mid-tempo cut that finds Cole soaring during its impactful chorus.
“The Hard Way” introduces the album with a soft piano and then turns to a hard, repetitive thud recalling hints of some of the best moments heard on This Fire.
Other songs reference Cole’s recent divorce (“P.R.E.N.U.P.,” “Waiting On A Miracle”), and while that would seem like fodder for great songwriting, none of them seem to display any lasting punch.
On the aptly titled, 8-minute “Sex,” we find Cole getting her groove on, which is something she’s never shied away from (“Feelin’ Love,” anyone?). The problem is that it’s so dull and never builds to much of a climax.
Perhaps it is cathartic for Cole to release this new set of songs as a way to channel the emotions she’s endured these last few years, but with Ithaca, it seems the fire that was once burning so bright and channeled so clearly through her music has sadly dimmed to but a mere fading spark.