Back in the day, Juliana Hatfield was a babe. Uh, make that a baby, as one of the members of Blake Babies.
Today, she's still a babe, but now she's all grown up, and it shows in her latest music.
Hatfield's 10th solo album, How To Walk Away, was released by her own label, Ye Olde Records, on Aug. 19, and it explores themes of dreams and schemes, sadness and loneliness, all wrapped up in nifty 4- and 5-minute mid-tempo rockers.
This one-time alt/pop princess with a 'tude has lent her baby-girly voice to the Girl Power movement over the past two decades, achieving some levels on mainstream success in the early '90s. There were featured guest performances on the Claire Danes-starring TV vehicle of teen angst in middle-class America, My So-Called Life. Several of Hatfield's songs, including "My Sister" and "Spin the Bottle," both from 1993's breakout Become What You Are, and "Universal Heart-Beat," from 1995's acclaimed Only Everything, were in heavy rotation on MTV (when it actually played videos).
She became the darling of the independent set. Maybe she tried to downplay her ingenue looks at times, but the stunning brunette/redhead could have given America's Top Model a run for the money, along with another former Berklee College of Music student-turned-hot rock chick, Aimee Mann.
Hatfield seems years removed from that era, and even from 2005's Made in China. Then, with raging guitars and spitting vitriol, she seemed to take on the persona of Courtney Love. Hatfield's inner Wild Child rants, "WTF, it's a miracle I'm even here," on "What Do I Care," and "If you want to pray for me, tell God to send me some money," on "Send Money."
A Beauty with Brains or Angry Young Woman? Maybe both, but now she has "matured," while still specializing in Falling-Out-of-Love Songs that she admits are "very autobiographical."
Love is everywhere: and back-to-back-to-back on some of the release's best offerings. "This Lonely Love" includes the vocal talents of The Psychedelic Furs' Richard Butler along with a few "ooh, oohs." The heartbreaking "My Baby …" closes the ellipsis with "doesn't love me anymore" and later asks, "Where does love go when it goes? It's like a white bird in the snow." Then there's "Just Lust."
Best lines: Payback's a bitch when Hatfield shows her acidic sense of humor in the aforementioned song, where the needy guy who bangs at her door at 3 a.m. gets his in the chorus. "It's just lust, it doesn't mean I love you," and, for good measure, she adds, "it doesn't necessarily mean that I even like you very much." Ah, sweet revenge.
Play it again: The peppy "Now I'm Gone" (and "I'm not coming back") complete with Rolling Stones riffs, girl-group hand claps and electric piano. "The Fact Remains," the opening track with the album's title figuring into the lyrics. "Next time maybe I will know/how to walk away/with pride and grace."
All in the family: Co-written by Hatfield's brother Jason, "Remember November" and "Such a Beautiful Girl," are hit and miss. There's some nice guitar work in "Remember", the closest thing to a bittersweet Bangles ballad (and that's not a bad thing!) "Beautiful Girl," featuring Nada Surf's Matthew Caws, doesn't paint such a pretty picture, with lines like "She's such a beautiful girl/but she lives in an ugly world."
Summing it up: You've come a long way, Blake Baby. In fine, if not powerful, voice, Hatfield appears to have left the young and restless crowd behind but the tears and fears remain on an achingly beautiful package of 10 love-gone-wrong songs.
Pop (Culture) Quiz: Five Simple Questions For …
Juliana Hatfield, who replied via e-mail on Aug. 19:
1. MP3s, CDs, or Vinyl?
CDs mostly. But vinyl once in a while – I have a really crappy-sounding speaker/turntable combo that needs to be upgraded.
2. American Idol or Dancing With the Stars?
American Idol, but I say this only because I have watched it a few times – not because I get into it. I have never been able to watch the Dancing show. I don't like it.
3. Super Bowl, World Series, or NBA Finals?
World Series, but only if the Red Sox are in it.
4. Xbox, PlayStation, or Wii?
Uh, what? I don't know what any of these things are. Whatever they are, they are not a part of my life.
5. McCain or Obama?
I am registered as an Independent. That's all I am going to say.
Next up: Appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno when it returns from its Olympic hiatus on Aug. 25. … Launching a tour on Sept. 9 in Washington, D.C. The prolific and bloggerific writer's 336-page memoir, appropriately titled When I Grow Up, is published on Sept. 29.
See Juliana Hatfield's tour dates on her official website.
See the video for "This Lonely Love" at MySpace.com.