Supporting Juliana Hatfield (the quintessential avatar of grunge and post-grunge girlymotions) has always been easy for those of us who carry the rosy gloom of youth around in our ostensibly grown-up years. Especially crucial to women who hold fast to some of the better allowances of our teens (same crowd as the Sassy
obsessives, really), Hatfield’s persona is a low-fi melting pot of tough-and-tired East Coast indie rock, low-lashed sex appeal, and the gentlest tragedies of the romantic spirit.
The former Blake Baby has become, particularly over the course of her 10 solo albums, the primary go-to for both bawdy guitar rock and skinny-legs-and-all introspection. All of this considered, the charges of inconsistency levelled at her music are totally warranted. Too often, Hatfield’s records suggest overconfidence in her facile-on-purpose signature sound.
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Her latest, How to Walk Away, has some of that, sure. Yet, to the tremendous relief of defensive fangirls (me), Hatfield has leveraged her baby-girl vocals and commitment to college-rock composition into fun, worthwhile songs. Much kinder and more polished than her previous record, the dirty rocker Made In China, her latest still lacks China’s cohesiveness. The good: “My Baby . . .” and “Now I’m Gone” are simply written, have cute hooks and are wildly relatable. “Just Lust” is the kind of track that long ago linked Hatfield to such provocateering peers as Liz Phair. With casual smugness, this calling-card cut effectively flips off emotionally needy dudes. Word. After that, the suckiness of “Remember November” and “Such a Beautiful Girl” are particularly jarring. As ever, the ebb and flow of frailty and strength inside and after relationships is Hatfield’s subject. And she’s getting it right most of the time.