Jill Sobule Returns With Playful, Eclectic Pink Pearl

Dropped by label, stricken with writer's block, 'I Kissed a Girl' singer rebounds.

Like one of the erasers on the cover of her new album, Pink Pearl, resilient singer Jill Sobule has been rubbed the wrong way before, yet keeps coming back for more.

Sobule is best known for the hit "I Kissed a Girl," a smart, homoerotic pop anthem from her self-titled 1995 album on Atlantic Records. Despite the single's success, Sobule was dropped by the label after releasing 1997's Happy Town.

But it wasn't the first time. In 1990, Sobule was recording for MCA, which released the Todd Rundgren–produced Things Are Different Here. After being dropped, she and labelmate Richard Barone (the former Bongos member who co-wrote Pink Pearl's "Rock Me to Sleep") had a therapeutic notion.

"We were both dropped around the same time, during that whole Monsters of Rock tour," Sobule said, chuckling. "So we were gonna do a tour and call it Monsters of Dropped."

That kind of spirit has helped carry Sobule through what she calls a "tough transition" the past few years. But she hasn't exactly been moping about it. She's been trying new approaches and looking for a new home, which she found at Beyond Music.

In 1998 and '99, Sobule joined Lloyd Cole's touring band as a guitarist. "It was great just being a sideman," she said. "It was the first time since high school that I was just a member of a band, and I enjoyed the music without the pressure of being in charge. And I really worked on my guitar chops."

She also became a singing commentator on New York NPR affiliate WFUV-FM, where she penned topical tunes about popular icons and newsmakers. One, "Mary Kay" — about Mary Kay Letourneau, a schoolteacher who had an affair with an underage student — made it onto Pink Pearl, released Tuesday.

"I had writer's block for a while, so it was great for me," Sobule said. "I had to get up in the morning and come up with something to sing that day. Lately, the trashier news has been getting me. Maybe it's just easier for me to talk about why Kathy Lee [Gifford] is leaving the show."

Sobule's playfulness is evident on Pink Pearl, even in her varied and evolving approach to instrumentation. The first single, "One of These Days" (RealAudio excerpt), offers hip-hop-influenced beats, while "Rainy Day Parade" (RealAudio excerpt) includes timpani percussion.

"I have such eclectic tastes, I don't like to rely on one particular sound," Sobule said. "Songs are little stories, and the words usually come first, so I try to look at the music as soundtracks to the character studies."

Jack Barton, music director at Pittsburgh's WYEP-FM, thinks Pink Pearl's diverse songwriting should help rid Sobule of the

one-hit-wonder status associated with "I Kissed a Girl" (RealAudio excerpt).

"[Sobule] has a reputation as a novelty songwriter for 'I Kissed a Girl,' " he said, "but I don't think there's anything on this new record that reflects that. She [makes] observations not only about her own life but the world around her."

"One of These Days" has been WYEP's featured single during the tune's first week in release.

Just prior to Pink Pearl's release, Sobule embarked on a tour with Warren Zevon. She said the two songwriters had at least one thing in common — each is, perhaps unfairly, known for one big hit (Zevon's being 1978's "Werewolves of London").

"It's funny because sometimes Warren came out and sang the verses on 'I Kissed a Girl.' I've kind of re-embraced that song, and he's playing 'Werewolves' again," Sobule said. "We should've done a medley."