Written by Pedrastro del Diablo
Juliana Hatfield was one of my biggest musical crushes back in the '90s. I remember seeing the video for "My Sister" and then watching an episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete where Hatfield plays "Emma the lunch-line worker" and falling in love. Shortly after I bought The Juliana Hatfield Three's Become What You Are and recall the feeling of a justified love through music. Fast forward to present day where Juliana's 10th solo album, How To Walk Away, showcases a more mature artist that still knows how to keep her fans pleased. But is it as good as past efforts? Well…almost.
The album starts off in the right direction. We get the more melodic and darker tone of Hatfield, one that almost evokes a "Rhianna" tone from Fleetwood Mac mixed with the darker pop moments of bands like Teenage Fanclub or XTC (in regards to the melodic nature). There's a dark allure that fits the lyrics' dismal tone of love gone sour. Just when you think it'll get sweet, melancholy brings it back down, but it's enjoyable when it takes that turn.
I was ready to embrace this album with open arms once the second track, "Shining On", finished but then at track four, "My Baby", it detours slightly by being more straightforward and radio friendly, almost skirting on being Sheryl Crow-ish, but thankfully not enough to actually be that. Also, it seems the not-so-subtle lyrics cripple the song. The album returns to form with "Just Lust," which captures a harsh reality of an attraction in a nice catchy yet down tempo beat. "Now I'm Gone" veers back into the more straightforward territory that "My Baby" does but thankfully without compromising the tone that hooked me in at the first part of the album. But then we get to "Remember November" which is only ho-hum. Maybe its slightly more optimistic and sappy lyrics weigh it down or maybe it's the fact the song doesn't do much to keep my attention. Either way, it feels like one of the weaker tracks on the album. As the album progresses it becomes more background noise than something that keeps you invested and seems to just wash over you.
This may seem very nit picky, but the biggest flaw on this album is with the song "So Alone." The song itself isn't bad, but a small production decision really destroys what could be a good song. There's a distracting percussion noise that really takes you out of the song and seems very out of place. I hate to think that it was a conscious decision on Hatfield's part. I refuse to believe it! It just really bothers me because I really enjoy the song and want to listen to it but can't even get through it now because of that damn noise.
There are a few guests on the album, including The Psychedelic Furs' Richard Butler and Nada Surf's Matthew Caws. "This Lonely Love" featuring Butler is the standout track and reminds me more of Hatfield's earlier material while maintaining the more mature sound we hear throughout this album. Though the track feels a bit jarring compared to the more somber tone the first few songs set up, it's a welcome shift since the song works so well. I wish I could say the same for "Such a Beautiful Girl," which features Matthew Caws from the extremely underrated Nada Surf. The song has some beautiful vocals, especially from Mr.Caws, but it just seems like it's missing that extra something. A problem I actually heard on a few songs from Nada Surf's latest release strangely enough.
How To Walk Away is a good effort and better than a few of her more recent releases, but I can't help miss the sound I fell in love with when I heard Juliana Hatfield all those years ago. That's why I loved the album Juliana's Pony-Total System Failure. The fuzzed-out guitars, the catchy hooks, and the fun of rockin' out just made for a better listening experience. As a fan, I know it's unfair to expect an artist to repeat a certain sound, and Juliana Hatfield has not been shy about changing it up from time to time, but I feel Hatfield is at her best in that Become What You Are/Total System Failure element. Still, if you're a fan of Hatfield's work, I recommend you pick this up. It's definitely worth the listen and shows some promise for future releases.