Pros: Juliana Hatfield's immature voice is as soothing as ever.
Cons: I'm a guy... I need hard music. But I can't quit listening to this?
Music is, and always has been, a strange beast. While I've often agonized over the fact that Blink 182 and Sum 41 thrive while 88 Fingers Louie and Propagandhi struggle to survive, it's not the most atrocious act of people embracing a lesser band while ignoring another.
If I were to take gratuitous potshots, I'd easily refer to the popularity of Limp Bizkit and the thousands of other garage bands putting out higher quality music on Saturday night jam sessions, but I'm not that person (...or am I?).
Instead, I'll focus on Juliana Hatfield, a throwback from the early nineties who, while having one gold album in the likes of The Juliana Hatfield Three: Become What You Are, never received the attention she deserved while female acts such as Paula Cole, Jewel, Meredith Brooks and even Alanis Morissette all rose quickly in popularity to anthems to the tortured female soul.
For those of you who've read my previous review of her work, The Juliana Hatfield Three: Become What You Are, you already know why I can't help but love her music. But, I'll elaborate again for those of you just stumbling across my humble little writing.
Juliana Hatfield has some of the most intelligent lyrics in the business, maintaining simplistic prose with a deeper meaning that everyone can appreciate. Whether she's angry or sad, there's almost always a message to her music.
The there's Hatfield's voice itself. It's soft and immature while being amazingly sweet at the same time. Some may see her voice as weak and amazingly thin, but I'm not looking for some diva to rip an amazing song to shreds (see also: Madonna - "American Pie"). I want a voice to cover a song and do it justice, even if presented in a slightly different light (as in Hatfield's bootleg covers of The Descendents' "Hope" or Weezer's "Say It Ain't So").
Simply put, Juliana Hatfield has always presented what my vision of music is. Simple, effective and meaningful lyrics in a way that doesn't seem overproduced, flashy or fake one bit.
If you ask me what a musician is, my answer will always be "Juliana Hatfield."
And, as a fan, I went into Juliana Hatfield: Beautiful Creature knowing only The Juliana Hatfield Three: Become What You Are and, thus, expecting Hatfield to be pushed off the pedestal that I had her sitting upon. Luckily, or maybe much to my surprise, Juliana Hatfield came through again.
The album starts off innocently enough with what seems like a reference to Hatfield's earlier applauded 1998 effort, Bed, in "Daniel." ("At the water's edge, that's where I make my bed...") Soft, slightly distorted guitar and low-key drum beats make way for Hatfield's voice to take control where others complained that Become What You Are showcased the music more than her voice. A sign of things to come?
Apparently so as the next song, "Close Your Eyes," has nothing to hide. Consider Nirvana's unplugged "Pennyroyal Tea" as a favorable comparison to "Close Your Eyes" as it focuses mainly on the singer itself. The singer is vunerable in a make-or-break style with nothing to hide behind as there's very, very little music outside of some light guitars to support their voice. As it stands, this song is my lullaby... a soft, soothing little song that shows just how powerful Hatfield's voice can be.
And, in a haunting way, Hatfield shows again that her "weak" voice can be all too powerful in the right circumstance in "Choose Drugs" as she says, almost mournfully, "I say it's me or drugs, you choose drugs."
Then the CD takes a slight turn and brings out a little more power in the jazzy, almost dreamy, "Cool Rock Boy." With a few distorted guitars and, for lack of better words, groovy drum beat and small bit of sampling, "Cool Rock Boy" brings a strong, though lyrically devoid for Hatfield, song to the table.
"Don't Rush Me," the fifth song on the album, sounds very much like Hatfield's earlier works. Strong, slightly smited, lyrics are all presented in a happy, light-hearted way that seems almost to laugh at itself. Perhaps it was originally meant, when written, to be serious and dark as most songs on the counterpiece CD, Juliana's Pony: Total System Failure, are. Instead, it seems slightly displaced but still a very good song.
The next song, "Slow Motion," seems to go just that. This isn't entirely a bad thing, as it also relies heavily on Hatfield to support the song with the power of her voice alone. Still, simplistic sounds with little to no lyrics definitely does not a great song make and, while I wish I could say more about the song, there's little to say.
"Might Be in Love" is a thoroughly enjoyable song that seems like a dreamy Hatfield proclaiming, slightly shyly, "I think... I might... be in love with you." As she describes how she feels ("But I know that I won't sleep at all. You're all I see when I close my eyes."), it seems all too plausible that Miss Hatfield has indeed found love. For anyone who's been in love, this song details what many people say words can't describe.
Again, the CD stays with a slow but soothing pace as Hatfield belts out, "Somebody is waiting for me." This wouldn't be so strange if she didn't say on the very next track that, well, "Heaven can wait until tomorrow." Heh... I guess that's why someone is waiting on you, huh?
Still, "Until Tomorrow" provides a strong sound that was sorely lacking on the preceding track. While by no means a standout track, it shows yet again what an amazingly sweet, angelic voice Juliana Hatfield has and what power she can have. Imagine Joey Lauren Adams singing in Chasing Amy without her raw, slightly raspy voice and you could see what drove Ben Affleck's character, Holden McNeil, crazy.
"The Easy Way Out" is next up and, well, I'm taking the easy way out and saying that it's a decent song that has nothing special. Unlike preceding songs, this focuses less on Hatfield's voice than on the music which is somewhat scattered. But there's something so amazing about her saying "...and he cries like a girl." Maybe her immature voice makes that rather immature line all the more funny.
I honestly can't say much about "Hotels." I like the song but there's nothing notable about it. It's one of those tracks that you don't feel like skipping but you just let play and never sink anything in from. I suppose it's really just a filler song. Speaking of filler, how many of you people thought my intro was filler? If you are one of those people, well, bite me hard and bite me fast. Ahem... thank you.
A very, very folky song that, my God, sounds like something Jewel would put out... you know, when she didn't try to have some super-amazing, better-than-you poetic bull to her music like she was Jim Morrison. Still, to take away from being too folky, there's some nice 80's hairband-esque overly-distorted guitars in for a very brief moment. It definitely makes "When You Loved Me" unique.
The final track on the album, "Cry in the Dark" is the first final track on any album that I have liked since "Blew" finished off Nirvana: From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkaw. The loudest song on the album and probably the best at the same time with only "Close Your Eyes" and "Choose Drugs" even being comparable. By no means hard, but still a great song that would have been huge if released only six years earlier back in the void left in the wake of Kurt Cobain's suicide.
Overall, while a few songs are only passable, there's just too much to love about Juliana Hatfield: Beautiful Creature. While not as strong lyrically as Become What You Are, it still contains lyrics better than 99 percent of bands in the mainstream culture today.
What do I say? Well, this is normally the kind of music that leaves a bad taste in your mouth comparable to a bottle of Pete's Wicked Ale, but I can't help but dig this woman's work. Slightly pop, slightly alternative, slightly jazzy and, dare I say, slightly grunge in parts, it's a unique album that people should at least give a listen to.
As for the counterpiece of work, well, that's a different story for a different day.