By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Dirty, nasty, sweaty, sweet
The great irony of Juliana Hatfield's career is that the more confident she grows--as a guitarist, a songwriter, a singer, an adult--the less moving her work becomes. Her debut in 1992, Hey Babe, may have been a work of transition--the band member trying to find her solo voice, a child becoming an adult--but it was so wonderful because of its imperfections; Hatfield didn't pretend to have the answers, she didn't mask her emotions in oblique expression, and she didn't try to gloss over her hesitant mistakes. It was a sparse, tense celebration of sadness and innocence, the centerpiece being the eloquent "Nirvana," about the simple power of a pop song told in a simple pop song.
Three years later, her third solo album, Only Everything, is more like a declaration of independence. Hatfield turns up the guitar and cries out with her small and pretty voice--screaming where she once whispered, sneering where she once pouted, smiling where she once frowned. If her debut sounded like a woman about to fall apart--in an oft-quoted and offhanded remark, Hatfield once told a writer she considered suicide after the release of Hey Babe, so unhappy was she with the record--then Only Everything is the roar of a woman collecting the pieces.
The suddenly ubiquitous single, "Universal Heart-beat," with its catchy chorus of "a heart that hurts is a heart that works," almost celebrates pain--with a broken heart at least you feel something, she is saying. And "Dying Proof," its dull and dirty roar recalling fellow Bostonians Dinosaur Jr, is (or seems to be) about a woman walking away from an enervating, humiliating relationship ("You say, 'Look at me respectfully'/I can't," she sings). But maybe Hatfield's most appropriate lyric comes from the non-album track "Girl in Old Blue Volvo Disowns Self," in which she quotes HYsker DY's 1982 album title: "Everything falls apart," she insists, her voice tinged with the optimism that accompanies resignation.
Juliana Hatfield performs June 17 at Trees. Cold Water Flat opens.