"Late 90s Spirit Pop" is a five-part review series about the unusual and interesting boom in "spiritual" pop albums during 1998 and 1999. For this series, I will explore five records indicative of this movement.
By 1999, the bubble-gum trend that had been rising continued to gain moment, while established artists released more introspective records. Paula Cole's Amen is a good example of how alternative pop artists effectively mixed styles that were merging on the charts to create more complex albums. Cole's spirit pop album is an under-appreciated gem that works as soul music textured with hip-hop ("Rhythm of Life") and disco ("I Believe in Love"). It also effectively grounds its ethereal subject matter, like in the character studies "La Tonya" and "Suwannee Jo." Amen is an urban record not only in sound but also in imagery. Many of the songs find the singer trying to understand loss, despair, and spiritual longing set against a city background, like on the excellent "Be Somebody," the laid-back "Free," and "Pearl." Perhaps because teen pop was in vogue, albums like Cole's garnered only moderate commercial success, but their craftsmanship is admirable.