Juliana Hatfield - Beautiful CreatureJuliana Hatfield - Total System Failure

Juliana Hatfield
Beautiful Creature / Total System Failure

(Zoë/Rounder)

First Appeared at The Music Box, September 2000, Volume 7, #9

Written by Michael Karpinski

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Just who does Juliana Hatfield think she is? Bruce Springsteen? Guns N' Roses? Smashing Pumpkins? Granted, the line between self-expression and self-aggrandizement in the music biz has always been a fiber-optically fine one, but with the simultaneous release of two polar-opposite opuses — Beautiful Creature and Total System Failure — Hatfield crosses that line with an air so self-consciously careless and contemptuous it comes off more as an exercise in egregious ego than a screw-the-rules, middle-fingered salute to her industry's tried-and-true, "one-album-every-two-years" credo.

With Total System Failure, Hatfield [working with bassist Mikey Welsh (Weezer) and drummer Zephan Courtney (Milligram) as Juliana's Pony] has crafted an anachronistic slab of fuzzed-up grunge that reprocesses Nirvana (Houseboy), rehashes Hole (Metal Fume Fever), and resurrects Led Zeppelin (My Protegee), Veruca Salt (The Victim), and Siamese Dream Smashing Pumpkins (Using You). Certainly, no one can begrudge Hatfield the right to retire to her attic with a couple of chums and produce a four-track clatter. However, to dump the resultant, clunky clutter on an unsuspecting populace in the name of quick-thrift commerce is akin to sharing the transcripts of one's psychoanalysis with the masses. Just because Billy Corgan traffics in this sort of vanity-mirror self-indulgence doesn't mean that Juliana has to do so.

If Total System Failure is the geological equivalent of a shovel-load of coal, then Beautiful Creature is a tiny diamond — the beauty that very nearly redeems the beast. Here, Hatfield pulls a Mr. Rogers — exchanging her Doc Martens and funky flannels for Birkenstocks and daisy-emblazoned bell-bottoms. Fans of the Massachusetts chanteuse will find themselves on much more familiar terra firma here, as Hatfield's wispy-thin, baby-doll voice has always been better suited to slacker ballads (Might Be in Love with You; Somebody is Waiting for Me) than angry, righteous babe reprimands (The Easy Way Out; Don't Rush Me). Alas, as on her earlier efforts, she still has the habit of slipping into pretty-but-vacant autopilot mode (Hotels; When You Loved Me), and of coasting on competent but clichéd alt-rock riffs (Cool Rock Boy). Yet, even Nancy Reagan might find herself hooked by Choose Drugs — a delectably addictive lament accented with mellow cello and graceful, Tracy Chapman-esque acoustic cascades.

Despite the "audacious" nature of her sudden, double-fisted prolific-ness, Juliana Hatfield enters the new millennium with more a whimper than a bang. Unless she makes a concerted effort to concentrate on quality over quantity — rampant originality over cautious copy-catting — she may soon find herself exiled to the same outmoded plateau as Natalie Merchant and Lisa Loeb. Ms. Hatfield would also do well to acquaint herself with the following, rather patently obvious fact: grunge long ago went the way of Kurt Cobain — ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

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Beautiful Creaturestarstar ½

Total System Failurestar

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Beautiful Creature is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

Total System Failure is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright © 2000 The Music Box