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Juliana Hatfield: Weird

Juliana Hatfield: Weird

Weird is ultimately about the ties that don’t bind.

Juliana Hatfield: Weird

3.25 / 5

Juliana Hatfield has been caught up in a whirlwind of activity. In 2017 she issued the fascinating Pussycat, then followed that last year with an album of Olivia Newton-John covers that reignited the conversation about the Australian superstar. True to form, Hatfield’s honest in calling her latest{Weird}: These are songs about solitary existence, the angst of introversion and, maybe, depression.

On opener “Staying In,” supported by a buoyant beat and pleasantly fuzzed out guitar (imagine your 1978 transistor radio with a bum speaker), she sings about the desire to stay home rather than go out and being mistaken for a “{functioning human being.}” It’s one part sly observation, one part confession and in its way a revelation. In a world that focuses its attention on being cool, Hatfield describes quite succinctly what it’s like to be part of the uncool set. There are other hints to that end in “It’s So Weird,” in which she details a life made more fulfilling by not needing to be needed or not needing to need. Whether these inclinations are about mending a broken heart or simply finding peace in middle age, abandoning societal expectations, the observations seem necessary and poignant.

Which isn’t to say that she’s immune or averse to contemplating romantic entanglements. “Sugar” is as much about the push-and-pull of Cupid’s arrow as it is about celebrating one’s solitude. Sure, what she reveals along the way may not reset the emotional zeitgeist but it’s familiar enough to resonate and encourage the listener to ponder the human condition—and it’s one of the album’s better songs.

Meanwhile, “All Right, Yeah” comes as close to KISS as Hatfield’s likely to get, with guitars almost comically overblown (in the best way) and lyrics that suggest fantasies of self-delusion. Then again, “Broken Doll” is about an honest a self-assessment as one could hope to hear in a contemporary rock song and it’s blazing lead lines and attitudinal vocal delivery mark it as one of her most memorable slices of songwriting.

There are more introspective moments, including “Lost Ship,” which recalls the whispery, lo-fi work she did as a member of The I Don’t Cares with Paul Westerberg, as well as “No Meaning,” one of the LP’s more nuanced moments and one of several that casts the listener’s mind back to the halcyon days of alternative rock c.1993. There’s nothing dated about this collection, of course; it’s a cohesive statement about fear and loathing in an era that claims to prize connection while driving isolative wedges between us.

Weird is ultimately about the ties that don’t bind and the binds that we find ourselves in, whether romantic or personal, and Hatfield seems like the best candidate to deliver that state of the (dis)union. No, not everything shines with a patina of overwhelming brilliance: “Everything’s For Sale” is probably the weakest link here and arrives surprisingly early in the sequence, and the closing “Do it to Music” is admirable in the rush of sex and romance it conveys but falls short of the mark the artist establishes elsewhere. Still, kudos to Hatfield for taking up topics outside the mainstream and conveying them with a frank clarity. Here’s to many more records from her, no matter how, ahem, weird.

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