Friday, 29 July 2011

Juliana Hatfield

There are some artists that never really lodge themselves in the consciousness of the great buying public and thus never appear on those worthy ‘best of’ lists.  However, before I get too pompous about this, bear in mind that I am as guilty as the rest when it comes to US singer/guitarist, Juliana Hatfield, yet an album that I return to on an unnervingly frequent basis is her ‘Become What You Are’.

Originally the bass player with the Blake Babies in the 1980s, Juliana flirted with Evan Dando (in all senses of the word) and his Lemonheads before issuing her first well-received solo album, ‘Hey Babe’ in 1992.  But it was the follow up in 1993, the magnificent ‘Become what You Are’ that gave her a deserved 15 minutes of fame with frequent airplay of both singles culled from the set.  Configured as a classic power trio with a bass/drums rhythm section in addition to herself on guitar, she produced music that is a joyous throwback to gutsy guitar rock with proper tunes and few overdubs.  Thankfully, it is also exceptionally well recorded giving a ‘live’ feel which accentuates the looseness and excitement of the material.  How many times have good albums been dragged down by indifferent production?

But the real draw to BWYA is the way that the music reflects her own personality: a sort of child-woman with attitude.  The whole album is a battleground where her angst, given full rein in grungy guitars and pointed lyrics is constantly tempered by quieter girlish moments of feminine vulnerability.  These competing sides to her psyche were to be laid bare in 2000’s double album ‘ Juliana’s Pony: Total System Failure’ where one whole album (Juliana’s Pony) would be given over to delicate acoustic songs whilst the other (Total System Failure) would indulge in an orgy of electronic white noise that even Sonic Youth would shy away from.  Whilst this later album shows the separated extremes, ‘Become What You Are’ demonstrates what happens when the two are cleverly combined and it is a magic that she has not quite managed since.

Juliana continues to release albums today and I feel a little guilty that I have not investigated many of them.  Somehow, BWYA has spoiled me and I don’t anticipate that anything else she does will satisfy.  Perhaps I’m wrong and in a way I hope I am, but it doesn’t take away from BWYA – an album to which I will always return.

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