In the mid 90s, Jill Sobule had a couple of moderate “hits” on alt radio with Super Model and I Kissed a Girl. They were the kinds of songs that may have been dismissed by some as novelties, but they have none the less stayed with me for almost 20 years. Enough that every now and again, I’ve thought I should listen to more Jill Sobule. Well, better late than never, I finally did just that, with Happy Town.
Straight away, it reminds me that she had more than the two above mentioned radio friendly ear worms in the mid 90s. Because less than a bar into Bitter, the entre song came flooding back into my memory. It’s Sobule’s three and half minute reminder to herself not to get bitter about the things in life that shit her. It’s combination of haunting and sweet makes it sound like she hasn’t got there yet, but it’s likely that she will soon enough.
After a quiet, samba intro, the chorus of the title track goes full guitar rock/pop for a sarcastically bouncy vibe to contrast the lyrics about the ‘happiness’ to be found in medicated normalcy. Ever wondered what a song would sound like if Tom Waits was a woman with a sweet, high voice? Well, you’re gonna get the answer anyway if you listen to Half a Heart. I’m not saying it’s a rip off of Waits or his thing. It just gave me the same feeling that his demented big top sound often does.
But there’s nothing demented about the happiness and musical joy that is When My Ship Comes In. Another one I remember getting decent airplay back in the day, and another that has stayed with me note for note over the years. It sounds like a party became a song. It also sounds nothing like the perplexing Clever. From it’s dark, blues guitar intro, to its fiddle of lament filled verses, to its guitar angst choruses. It’s a little rambling and sprawling, while never seeming unfocused.
As Love is Never Equal rolled out, it made me conscious of the knack Sobule has for bitter sweet, ironic titles and lyrics. Happy Town is full of titles that seem like they could go either way on paper, then once it starts, it seems like its dark, wry view point was inevitable. And when backed by her voice, and often anachronistic musical and genre choices, each song is delightful surprise.