Juliana Hatfield,
Beautiful Creature
(Rounder/Zoe, 2001)

The first beats of "Daniel," Beautiful Creature' opening track, are clues that this album is going to be comprised of casual rock. There's a steady drumbeat and repetitive chords on an electric guitar. The beat remains continuous, although Hatfield's voice plays with variations on the theme as she sings "he looks all right outside/but he feels so bad inside." She subsequently carries this chorus to a higher key for emphasis before a gentle electric guitar solo takes over. "Daniel" is an insightful opening number on an album in which casual rock and pop songs are penetrating in their simplicity.

The second track, "Close Your Eyes," is a further example of that simplicity. It's such a gentle song that it's almost a lullaby, albeit one aimed at an adult. Hatfield's innocent-sounding voice works well on such a number. Almost amazingly, it does the job on "Choose Drugs," with the lines "I say it's me or drugs/You choose drugs." They're not the words you'd expect that voice to say, but perhaps its very gentleness emphasizes the gravity of the situation. On "Cool Rock Boy," it suddenly matures a few years to go with the rock beat. However, it's perhaps just a mite too sweet on "Might Be in Love," "Until Tomorrow" and "Somebody is Waiting for Me," all pop numbers. Interestingly, these three songs are the only ones on the album that Hatfield didn't produce. Perhaps she knows better as to what's her more powerful sound. It's not that the gentle voice needs hard rock beats to contrast it. "When You Loved Me," a soft rock number, doesn't have the cloying sweetness of the chorus on "Might Be in Love." Instead, as on "Choose Drugs," Hatfield uses her gentle voice to emphasize her frustration and anger.

Hatfield doesn't bother with lyrics in the CD booklet, but that's OK because her enunciation is so crystal clear that there aren't any second guesses about lyrics -- no mondegreens to be discovered here. She's safely ensconced in the confessional school of songwriting, wild mild folk influences on her lyrics. The closing track, "Cry in the Dark," is a dead-on analysis of emotions and relationships. "Do you cry in the dark 'cause it's easier to be alone than to talk?" she immediately asks. It's the most complex song on the album and an interesting choice for its conclusion.

Beautiful Creature demonstrates that Juliana Hatfield can write some strong songs that may be more complex than first noted. It also proves that she knows what she's doing in the production studio as well. I'd be curious to know the details behind the choices that were made there.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]
Rambles: 18 May 2002

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