Now that this sort of music has had its day, I wanted to check out a new release by one of the early-90's critics darlings and see what it's like on the way down. I never really got into Juliana Hatfield, as much as I liked Belly and the Breeders. Something told me "that girl's crazy."
I always thought her songwriting was good, even though it often infuriated me ("Spin the Bottle," for example, both thrills me and enrages me whenever I hear it. Points for being in 5/4, but points deducted for overall cloyingness).
I never owned a Juliana Hatfield album before this one, and I'm still at a loss to explain what appealed to me about this one. I attribute it to whatever broken gene it is that makes me only enjoy TV shows when they're in syndication, and to only acknowledge albums when they are reissued.
Or perhaps it's the perverse enjoyment I get in watching a celebrity on the wane. Either way, I'm stuck with this until I can get to a used CD shop and trade it in for some equally specious CD.
Actually, it's not a bad album at all, but it's not the sort of thing I'd ever sit down and listen to. Unlike Tanya Donelly, who has at least managed to retain her songcraft, Juliana Hatfield seems to be coasting on a general talent for music but no fresh ideas.
"Sneaking Around," for example, borrows its groove, sound, and most of its first line from "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," not one of my favorite songs to begin with. I mean, for heaven's sake, if you're going to rip off "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," don't use "Around" in your title (unless it's "Stop Draggin' My Car Around," in which case, get a haircut, Weird Al).
Bed was recorded in a six-day period, and sounds as though perhaps it was also written and rehearsed in that space of time. It's a rough record, but at least it's an unpretentious one. No really stellar songs, but if I had to pick favorites, they'd be the early-80s-esque "Live it Up" (early-80's meaning Loverboy, not Eddy Grant), the acoustic "Running Out" (anthemic, a great song should have been a focal point for a better album. Features the line "You're too young to die/In a double suicide"), and "Bad Day." Ever notice how I always pick three favorites? So formulaic.
The record as a whole is anachronistically rock-oriented, lots of electric guitars and big drums. It does sound like it was recorded quick, though, almost demo-quality. That suits the songs, though, and ultimately it suits the artist she probably shouldn't have gotten so big in the first place.
It does bring up the dilemma of what happens to "cool people" when they grow up. I mean, you literally can't be cool your whole life. Look at Andy Warhol, and Andy Rooney (together at last!).
A generation of kids who were outcasts in high school and then found their niche in college and creative post-college jobs must now face up to the fact that it's always the kids that are cool, by definition. Too bad.
The teens of the 80s and 90s picked the one attitude with the biggest backfire attached: cynicism. And now what's left for them? Bitterness.
And yet, something about the album still appeals to me. Its rough-hewn feel, the unfinished quality of it? The attractive, un-cliched essence of an "important" artist's minor work? Who knows.
Actually, screw it, this is lily-white music for people who never got a clue. (Crash) There it goes onto the sell-back pile.
Review by Anne Chumbawumba