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Paula Cole – I Believe in Love

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One of the great things that can happen when you’ve had a successful album is that you can ring up the record company and say “hello, I quite fancy having a full orchestra on the new single, is that alright?” and they say “yes, knock yourself out” and you get all excited and momentarily forget that you’ll be paying for that orchestra for the rest of your career. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the story of Paula Cole.

Paula came along at exactly the right time, for if you had designs on being a female pop star with a fairly serious mindset, the mid to late nineties was the time to do it. To be (Lillith) fair, nearly all of them were pretty great, and queen of the lot was Alanis Morissette, who was on course to be the biggest star on the planet until she swallowed a thesaurus and completely blew it on that album whose name even now I can’t be bothered to type. Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Jewel, Shawn Colvin, Lisa Loeb, Meredith Brooks, Natalie Merchant, Fiona Apple, Joan Osborne – there had never been a takeover like it.

When Paula sold 2 million copies of her second album This Fire – thanks to the double whammy of Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? and Dawson’s Creek theme tune I Don’t Want to Wait –  it looked like she was another one that was built to last, so anticipation for her follow-up was pretty high by the time 1999 rolled around. Paula announced her return by becoming the Paula Cole Band, roping in the aforementioned orchestra and releasing the stunning I Believe in Love:

 
Starting in full flow with a truly magnificent string section (worthy of Anne Dudley and there’s no higher praise than that),  swirling flutes and a pleasingly disco wah-wah guitar, I Believe in Love was as close as you could get to a sure-fire hit: dramatic, melodic, with a universal theme (everyone believes in love, apart from Dido, who very firmly didn’t on her 2008 no.54 flop). It was even a bit danceable courtesy of its underlying groove. I was getting sent promos at the time (those were the days) and I played it to death, smugly telling anyone who would listen that this was going to be massive – so naturally it was completely ignored by radio and failed to chart entirely. What probably didn’t help was that the accompanying album was called Amen – unless you’re R.E.M. or Kate Bush, the slightest whiff of God is going to put a lot of radio programmers off.

It’s clear the entire budget was blown on the record, because the video is as cheap as you can possibly get. What the song required was Paula as some god-like being overseeing the creation of a new planet – what it got was Paula jigging about arrhythmically, looking visibly pissed off in a fake karaoke bar, and it does I Believe in Love no favours whatsoever.

The whole thing signifies that Warner Bros had decided Paula was no longer A Priority Artist, and so it was that she went from phenomenon to footnote in the space of one album – and while she’s continued to record, releasing her most recent album earlier this year, she would never trouble the singles charts again. How unfair.

Entered chart: did not chart

Who could sing this today and have a hit? I’d say Brandon Flowers would do an amazing job, but his record company would only give it away as an instant grat track.

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