Gift of clarity

Bless Bonnie Pink.

In the last few years, the Japanese singer-songwriter has attempted to branch out, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst.

On her scattered but pretty 2001 album, Just a Girl, Pink experimented with drum and bass and electronica beats. For most of 2002, she collaborated with R&B artists, even dueting with m-flo’s Verbal.

The time away from the literate, adult contemporary pop Pink usually produces has given back her clarity — and it shows on her seventh album, Present.

There’s always been a dash of soul in Pink’s music, something she attempted to bring out with too heavy a hand on Just a Girl. Present takes a subtler approach.

“Losing Myself” starts off with a monotone melody easily imaginable remixed and processed. But as the song unfolds, acoustic and electric guitars take over, and the song ends up in familiar terrain.

The title track works much in the same way. Folk guitars ground Pink in a comfortable setting, but the drum machine ticking in the back is only a few knob twidles away from a dance mix.

In fact, Pink makes her most overt R&B statement at the beginning of the album with the Tore Johannsen-produced “Tonight, the Night”.

As the album progresses to its middle tracks, the R&B influences make way for Pink’s more introspective side. “Rope Dancer” features the requisite strings and pulsing piano, while “Home” could have fit nicely with the ’70s vibe on 2000’s Let Go.

Pink reclaims her inner soul singer toward the end of the album with the slow shuffle of “Passive-Progressivism” and the disco beat of “Chronic Vertigo”.

Present ends on a quiet note — “Wildflower” harkens to Cocco’s “Polomerria”, while “April Shower ~Yogatsu no Ame~” offers Pink’s trademark minimal arrangements.

In a way, the album is a logical progression from the tightness of Let Go and the bravado of Just a Girl. Pink seems to have taken the time to learn lessons from both albums and make it all work on Present.

Present doesn’t sacrifice the appealing songwriter pop that’s defined Pink’s career, but neither does it merely rehash what she’s done before.

The title is something of a double entendre: it’s a real treat to hear Pink so focused on the here and now.