Juliana Hatfield: How to Walk Away

I'd mostly tuned out Juliana Hatfield since 1990, though I bought and still play the first couple of Blake Babies albums. Solo or with one of her bands, Hatfield's moody MOR jangle-and-coo always anticipated an indie rock that would appear on Jay Leno, as she will Monday, and while that's not necessarily a dis, her sweet child-voice requires its bitter trade-off: namely, some of the best lyrics ever written about punishing asshole boys, and one's asshole self, for the stupidity that love inspires. The solo retrospective Gold Stars 1992-2002 (Zoe) recommends Hatfield's growth (especially the fictional "My Sister," her biggest hit) with tracks from an album Atlantic never released. Her subsequent indie output—2004's In Exile Deo (on Zoe) and 2005's Made in China (on her own Ye Olde Records)—has its adherents, though I find the one too tinny and slick, and the other—a return to grunge—less songful.

How to Walk Away, meanwhile, finds Hatfield gently crooning her catchiest songs ever, produced this time for Sheryl Crow fans, but with the lighter touch of Ivy's Andy Chase keeping the chamber-synths sleek and out of the way. "This Lonely Love" recycles the riff of 2004's "It Should Have Been You" for a tune that deserves it (with the Psychedelic Furs' Richard Butler singing backup), and you can imagine U2 covering the non-cheesy "Luka" update "Such a Beautiful Girl," written with Hatfield's brother Jason, on which she hits those same old crazy high notes but with a lack of strain that conveys resignation rather than outrage. "The Fact Remains" is the saddest breakup song our president will ever get—asshole boys deserve so much worse.

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