Self-growth often arrives at the end of a mercurial and tumultuous period. At least it did for Ruthie Collins. Coping with a break-up and the specter of a loved one’s addiction, Collins needed to look inward and summon the bravery to trust herself. In doing so, she clandestinely tucked herself into the studio to record Cold Comfort. Without the hindrance of expectations and with no one to face but herself, Collins takes control of her sound and herself. Forgoing permission enabled Collins to cultivate peace with her pain while valuing the emotional journey leading her to the creation of Cold Comfort.
Addiction is a personal focus for Collins, as “Joshua Tree” and “You Can’t Remember” are influenced by her relationship with an addict. In a discussion of the latter, Collins recalls, “I wrote that song three days after we had to call 911 and have my boyfriend at the time hospitalized for an OD.” The track is a captivating impression of the effect of addiction on those watching the battle. She is undeniably impassioned when she sings, “You ain’t just killing yourself / Now you’re killing me.” Collins’ understanding of addiction is respectful and empathic. She never blames her boyfriend for his dependency or constructs an essentialist portrayal of addiction. By including her story among an addiction narrative, she demonstrates the painful impact on everyone rendered powerless by dependency.
“Joshua Tree” captures the energy and mystery of the location, as Collins gracefully commits descriptions of the natural park to music. The soaring strings underscoring Collins’ lulling vocals recreates Joshua Tree’s otherworldliness and endows the lyrics “meet me where a million stars catch fire to the sky”. Yet it is the music video’s depiction of addiction that exhibits the gravity and alleviates the lightness. Partially shot in the room that Gram Parsons’ overdosed, the video for “Joshua Tree” repositions the ethereal back into the real.
Collins embraces Americana and country music aesthetics more than any other genre. “Cheater” is emblematic of red dirt country. The upbeat tempo reiterates the classic juxtaposition of jaunty music with heartsick lyrics. The refrain’s repetition of the word cheater is haunting in its self-blame. In the finale “Beg Steal Borrow”, the adroit fingerpicking exalts Collins twangy vocals. The album’s old-school country vibes separate Cold Comfort from Collins’ previous work that featured threads of pop music. Cold Comfort is devoid of glittery instrumentation and mellifluous lyrics. Instead, the music is raw, sometimes bitter yet earning for optimism. Collins’ grittiness is measured and her anguish certain.
Cold Comfort is a breakup postmortem. As she hopes for in “Wish You Were Here”, “I thought I’d find some peace of mind”. Throughout, Collins centralizes her past and her role in enabling a toxic relationship. In “Hey Little Girl”, Collins contends with her conscience and actions as she asks herself, “Didn’t your mama teach you better?” The title track is contemplative of the time and energy Collins invested into the relationship. As the lyrics express that she is better off without the relationship, the music establishes the long-lasting effects of solitude. The song’s final minutes are spent in lush instrumentation, and Collins is silent. The emphasis on the music symbolizes the turmoil as she lacks the language to describe the emotion fully.
Although the album gathers inspiration from a dark and challenging chapter of Collins’ life, Cold Comfort catches the progression towards strength and self-understanding. “Change” accepts her inability to change other people and illustrates a step in Collins’ healing. In “Bad Woman”, she recognizes, “[I] think I can make it without you / I’ll do it if I have to.” Whereas the ballad finds Collins considering stealing another woman’s boyfriend, Collins ultimately realizes this act doesn’t reflect her sense of self. She remains genuine while validating her responses to hardship. Holding space to value her truest self is the impetus for the entire album. It is this ethos that renders Cold Comfort such an alluring listen.