You will not have fun listening to Amen. Any urge you may have to dance or make love—reasonable responses to the ‘70s soul that inspired this music—gets quashed as soon as you notice how bulldozingly sincere the lyrics are. (Paula Cole does not have a light touch. And, unlike Jewel, she is no poet.) (Consider the latter remark ironic.) Paula Cole has seen the world and she knows that it is full of sorrow. And now, by God, you’re going to hear about it.
Thus, you get a lyric sheet detailing how urban injustices keep you from really enjoying your Grammy. Here, for example: “I’m siphoning gas from the high school bus/Into the tank of my beat-up bug/So I can drive away from the shouting and misery” (from “Amen”). And this Deep Gem: “I’m standing at the edge of another precipice in life” (“Pearl”). And the ghetto cliché factory that is “La Tonya”: you may join Cole in asking “Lord won’t you please save me?” but you will be asking God’s deliverance from this song.
Speaking of God. She, or he, or some deity or another (Cole is pretty wide open to all manner of religious expression, including the Marianism of the cover photo which turns her into the Blessed Virgin herself) gets dragged in to the proceedings every three or four minutes. So, to complete the thought from “La Tonya”: “Lord won’t you please save me?/Is this the new slavery?/Here on the ghetto pavement?/But I believe in you baby?/Yes, my faith’s unshaken/In God.” Similar pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by twaddle infests a number of tracks here. A couple of hundred years back, you would have heard the nice white preachers going on similarly in the slave quarters.
Am I suggesting that this album is racist? Sure, in the same way that Mississippi Burning and Cry Freedom are racist. Amen uses the occasion of another’s suffering to focus attention on the white liberal’s sincere grief. And, gosh, aren’t we impressed with how deep she is? But I am perhaps Old Radical enough to wish the Cole and her ace band would do something other than mope and meliorate over tasty licks.