Bed

Juliana Hatfield

Zoe Records, 1998

http://www.julianahatfield.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/03/1998

When I first discovered who Juliana Hatfield was, the age of the "grrrl" movement hadn't come to pass yet. The bluntness - sexual and otherwise - contained in the boundaries of Become What You Are opened a lot of people's eyes and ears, mine included. I was disappointed with her follow-up album, Only Everything; apparently the record-buying public and her label were as well. For a time, it seemed like Hatfield dropped off the edge of the Earth.

Now, after recording an album that Atlantic refused to put out (they're still sitting on the tapes), Hatfield returns with a new label (Zoe, a new imprint of the Rounder family), a new album, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Bed, and a new focus of attack musically. Put all of these together, and you could easily call this album a comeback. I prefer to call it a "rebirth".

The ten songs on Bed probably won't surprise any long-time fans of Hatfield, with the exception that her schol-girl vocals seem to be getting more refined and smooth. Some of the lyrical bluntness is gone as well - most of which is the "shock value" quotient. On Bed, if Hatfield says something that's a bit brash, she has a reason for saying it.

Lyrically and musically, Hatfield sounds stronger than ever most of the time. Tracks like "I Am A Camera," "Down On Me" (a title that has a totally different meaning than you might think) and "Backseat" rival anything that Hatfield has ever done in terms of her greatest material. Likewise, her move to an acoustic guitar on "Running Out" shows off a whole new aspect to her music in terms of sheer power.

The one drawback to Bed is that it sometimes seems hard for Hatfield to maintain a high level of songwriting quality throughout the whole album. "Sneaking Around" and "Live It Up" just don't measure up to the rest of the album, and tend to drag things down a bit. (It sometimes seemed hard to stay focused on this album as well; unlike Become What You Are, this isn't an album you'll immediately get sucked into. It takes around two or three listens before you really get into it.)

In the end, the time since Hatfield's brush with the big time seems to have helped her mature both as a songwriter and as a musician; the overall quality of Bed is a marked improvement from Become What You Are, if even a tad slower tempo-wise.

Hatfield might not be running on the major labels now, but in the end, Bed seems to be a perfect fit for a smaller label; she has been given the chance to create an album on her own terms and with her own unique voice. With one or two small stumbles, the experiment worked, and Bed is a very comfortable album.

Rating: B+

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Zoe Records, and is used for informational purposes only.