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Juliana Hatfield | Gold Stars 1992-2002 (Zoë)
A thoughtfully compiled collection (i.e. there are previously unreleased tracks), dutifully annotated by Ms Hatfield, 'Gold Stars' serves as both an introduction to, and an overview of, her solo career. Roughly chronological, the album begins with Everybody Loves Me But You, classic Juliana both lyrically and musically, punk-pop enthusiasm sprinkled with charming naiveté. That's it for debut album 'Hey Babe', under-represented in comparison to later duds like 'Total System Failure', and we're into 'Become What You Are' for two gems - My Sister, where, as she explains, "the feelings are real, though the sister isn't," and favourite Spin The Bottle (but no For The Birds or I Got No Idols). The disappointing 'Only Everything' proffers the indie-rock pairing of Universal Heart Beat and Fleur de Lys, the latter Juliana's attempt to provide some great French rock music, but probably a fourth choice after the absent Live on Tomorrow or My Darling, among several notable ballads 'missing'. A couple of previously unreleased track are up next, the very pretty Mountains of Love, a welcome discovery, and the heavier dirge, Fade Away, from an aborted 1996 album 'God's Foot', on this evidence probably best left that way. From the excellent mini-album, 'Do Not Disturb' comes Sellout, another tirade against her detractors, apparently "not autobiographical" but, presumably, an informed piece of fiction. A disappointment not to see that record's finest moment, Trying Not To Think About It, included but such is the nature of the compilation. Better selected are those chosen from the subsequent follow-up, 'Bed'. Live It Up is a reliable rocker and the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks inspired Sneaking Around which, as noted, has a bridge "unintentionally reminiscent of [The Replacements'] Kiss Me On The Bus] but remains archetypal Hatfield. The superior half of the 'Beautiful Creature/Total System Failure' pairing picks wisely, Somebody Is Waiting For Me and Cry in the Dark both boast seductive vocal melodies and an unashamedly pop chorus. "At least one clueless cretin thought that 'Total System Failure' was a big joke" Hatfield admits, and I imagine that's a very conservative estimate. Not an all-out disaster, but pretty close, the record was a mix of outdated riot grrrl politics over similarly old-school heavy riffing (the Zeppelin steal My Protégéé, included here, combines the two to cringing effect), and Houseboy isn't much better. Two surprisingly effective covers follow, the faithful and fun take on Every Breath You Take (first included with the 'Beautiful Creature'/'Total System Failure' box set - now tell me she didn't know she'd need the hard sell for the latter), with some nice fucked-up guitar over the outro to remind us we're not listening to Roxette, and the gentle country sway of Neil Young's Only Love Can Break Your Heart, recorded "on a whim" in 1998. Hatfield's voice is divine here, as it is on virtually every song she blessed us with. The album is rounded off with no less than four further unreleased tracks. The call-to-arms power ballad We Will Rise Again with it's unintentional echoes to 9/11 - "I wasn't going to include this song but after the World Trade Center towers came down I decided to put it on because of the hopeful message in the chorus" - would sit better on a Cher album, such is its lighter-waving potential, but the potentially saccharine but lyrically more convincing Your Eyes is as good as anything she's recorded in recent years. Either side of these sit the bright mid-tempo pop of Don't Walk Away and the closing ballad, Table For One, which, again, walks a thin line between indie ballad and radio-friendly pop. There's nothing offensive about Juliana Hatfield, just an overriding sense of potential untapped, as this collection ably demonstrates. There no sense of progression here, just the picking up and putting down of an electric guitar. That Everybody Loves Me But You feels as fresh as the newly recorded tracks (perhaps more so) speaks volumes. That said, if an angelic voice and accessible US indie are what you crave you really couldn't ask for more.

Matt Dornan
August 2002