Dr. Jekyll, Ms. Hyde
Pouty and pretty, Juliana Hatfield gained a cult following throughout the '90s with her incisive lyrics and she-rocker presentation. While the past decade has seen her vacillate on recordings between sensitive songwriter and rock spitfire, Hatfield has found an ideal solution to the Jekyll/Hyde problem by doing something usually reserved for megaplatinum acts like Springsteen and Guns N' Roses: releasing two albums at once. She is a solo act with Beautiful Creature, and part of an off-the-cuff trio called Juliana's Pony with Juliana's Pony: Total System Failure (both on Zoe Records).
Creature showcases her self-confessional pen and lilting (though not always strong) voice on solid tracks such as "Might Be In Love," "When You Loved Me" and "Choose Drugs," showing a jaded honesty where relationships are concerned. "He looks so good on the outside / But feels so bad inside," she sings on the opener, "Daniel," though not in a defensive pose, which has become so prevalent (and so friggin' boring) among many female rock singers today.
But while the Creature is gentle and nice, it's also safe and expected. That's why Total System Failure is such a revelation. An intense, rocking, guitar-driven ride, it's as if the presence of bassist Mikey Welsh (formerly of Weezer) and drummer Zephan Courtney added a jolt of extra juju as Hatfield rips power chords and dirties up her previously pristine voice. On standout tracks like "Houseboy," "Leather Pants" and "Road Wrath," Juliana alternately wants to fuck you, run you over in her car, send you out to the store for "Pop-Tarts and orange juice" and get you to take off those leather pants before you go out ("Don't you realize you look stupid?" she asks witheringly). In the excellent "Total System Failure" and "The Victim," Hatfield unflinchingly takes on the candy asses you see on daytime talk shows who refuse to take responsibility for their lives/words/actions, insisting on blaming others. Surprisingly, rather than coming off simply mean or bitchy, Hatfield, both in word and delivery, rings with honesty, verbalizing what so many only think amid the day's psychobabble clutter. It's some of, if not the, finest songwriting she has done to date.
Since this show is billed as a solo performance, it's not clear which side of Juliana Hatfield will appear. Probably the sensitive chanteuse. But hopefully at some point she'll also let the pony loose, or maybe even consider a split bill. Juliana Hatfield performs Sunday, June 18, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. For more information, call (713)862-7580.
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