Although I'll still take old-school rockers like Joni Mitchell or even Heart's Ann Wilson over the sorry new crop of pop divas, Sobule is showing signs of improvement. She hasn't changed her tactics -- she's still warbling about men, anorexia, and other Oprah-approved topics. What makes the singer's new album intriguing is its artful experimentation. Featuring 12 diverse songs, Pink Pearl may be Sobule's magnum opus. Props to co-producers Brad Jones and Robin Eaton for framing Sobule's estrogen-scented lyrics in a variety of interesting musical settings. From bossa nova and hip-hop rhythms to '60s-style grandiosity, Pink Pearl runs the stylistic gamut while rarely stooping to Lilith-era indignation.
Sobule rises to the occasion with her best songs and performances yet. Her vocals are sweet yet urgent, while her guitar, drum, and keyboard contributions are surprisingly good. And unlike Sobule's earlier, bouncier recordings, Pink Pearl brims with bittersweet tunes packed with philosophical insight. "Lucy at the Gym" is the tale of a weight-obsessed woman who exercises herself into oblivion while "Claire" comes on like a contemporary version of "Eleanor Rigby." Most impressive is the album's energetic opening track, "Rainy Day Parade." This strangely inspiring ode to depression finds Sobule recreating the big-city bustle of Petula Clark's 1965 hit, "Downtown." The song's booming kettledrums and pealing church bells seem to herald the awakening of Sobule's dormant muse.