THE JULIANA HATFIELD THREE
Whatever, My Love
American Laundromat Records 0035
* * *
Twenty-one years after the first Juliana Hatfield Three record, Hatfield has reunited with drummer Todd Philips and bassist Dean Fisher to make the trio's sophomore release. By her own admission Hatfield hasn't tried to "reinvent the wheel." Whatever, My Love is pretty much guaranteed to invite comparisons to other Hatfield projects through the decades, though it does have a few twists. Some listeners may be surprised by the album's moments of vulnerability. Hatfield has a bad girl reputation, partly because she made glib remarks when she was younger, and partly because controversy follows her like a hungry dog. Speaking of canines, the new record has two dog references, both ironic. Lyrically there are two subthemes–longing for closeness and offering shelter to those ambivalent about needing it. When Hatfield muses "If Only We Were Dogs," it's in the sense of wanting an intense physical interaction in a highly inappropriate setting. Several tracks later, "Dog on a Chain" suggests things didn't go well. In like fashion, metaphorical pawing arises in "I Don't Know What to Do with My Hands."
Hatfield is generally pigeonholed in the alt rock category, with reviewers noting her blend of rock and folk. The latter is simply a wrongheaded way of describing her soft voice, which she prefers to frame with Fisher's thick, heavy bass lines. "Dog on a Chain" evokes early '80s punk, and "Push Pin" has the new wave feel of a Devo song. Listen hard and you'll hear some bass homage–a touch of Rolling Stones is "I'm Shy" and a little bit of Cream in "Blame the Stylist." When Hatfield detours on the soft side, it's for pop-tinged songs such as "Invisible," or for some jangly rock such as "If I Could," the track being pushed as a single. Overall, this album's flavor is somewhere between The Stooges and The Lemonheads (with whom Hatfield once played). It's not earth-shatteringly original—just some pretty good rock and roll at a time in which that offering is in short supply. I could nitpick about the need for better balance so that Hatfield's vocals come through more clearly, but I'm just happy to hear three musicians who sound like they're sweating instead of posing. Rob Weir