Two decades is a long time for a band by any metric. Styles come and go, pop evolves, and the fans who were once 10-year-olds clamoring for their parents to buy the latest CD become 30-year-olds wondering if the new fits in with the old. The first Juliana Hatfield Three record in 20 years, Whatever, My Love doesn’t sound like a band that took two decades off (perhaps because Juliana Hatfield released 10 solo albums in that time span), but instead like one that never split.
While the band’s debut, Become What You Are, helped make Hatfield a near-star thanks to melodies that swallowed you whole, Whatever, My Love doesn’t devour at quite the same rate. Opener “Invisible” is probably the hookiest of the bunch, but it’s not lyrically sharp enough to reel it all home. “You make me feel invisible … I am jumping up and down/ I’m choking on a tootsie roll.” These songs expertly set a mood — she’s invisible, she’s lonely, she needs something more — without putting a subject in the center worth clinging to.
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Even if not all these songs are memorable, many are still damn catchy. Whatever, My Love’s indifference isn’t in the melody; nearly every song could be hummed by anyone in any situation, and the trio hasn’t lost a step at all. Drummer Todd Phillips adds tiny flourishes across his beats, making subtle changes to each repeated phrase. Bassist Dean Fisher rarely does any fills or thrills on bass, but his lines are perfect for a band that sounds made for a 1995 Jim Carrey vehicle. All the instruments, including Hatfield’s guitar, get a chance to shine on the irregular, start-stop flow of “Wood”.
The trio locks into forms it’s long mastered. Even if the album lacks a killer riff or a song whose words simply cannot be forgotten, the sarcastic snarl and classic rock guitar heard on “Blame It on the Stylist” or the melancholy of “I Don’t Know What to Do with My Hands” should still appease power pop listeners. Hatfield may have long since established herself with Nada Surf side projects and Elliott Smith covers, but the title of her new one says it all: The care and concern are there, but the strength and distinction are not.
Essential Tracks: “Invisible”, “Parking Lots”