“I’m staying in,” Juliana Hatfield announces on the standout opening track of her new album, Weird. “If I go out, someone might mistake me for a fully functioning human being,” she sings.
Hatfield might not be feeling up to socializing, but the prolific singer-songwriter has certainly been fully functioning when it comes to her craft. Weird, her seventeenth album under her own name, follows her covers album, Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John, and the 2017 anti-Trump album, Pussycat. She also recently reissued her solo debut, 1992’s Hey Babe.
Full disclosure: I’m only now diving into her Olivia Newton-John covers, but her takes on “I Honestly Love You” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You” are quite delightful, if a slightly odd shift after Pussycat. That album cover alone evokes my mood (and that of every woman I know) after Trump’s Access Hollywood “pussy grabbing” tapes were released — it’s a close-up of Hatfield’s angry and almost bewildered dirt-smeared face, brow furrowed — and songs like “Short-Fingered Man” and “Kellyanne” drove the point home. Hatfield was pissed.
With this latest album, Hatfield isn’t quite so mad, she’s just feeling a little … off. Or dare I say, weird. Instead of a self-portrait, this album cover is taken up mostly by her name and title, but with a telling illustration of a woman, arms wrapped around her knees, curled up. As with the Pussycat cover, it teases not only the album’s themes of self-reflection, isolation and anxiety, but paints a bigger picture of Hatfield’s current state of mind. “I often feel cut-off from other people, from my feelings, from technology, from popular culture,” she said in a statement about Weird. That’s clear from the jump with “Staying In,” and then maybe a little too on the nose with the second track, “It’s So Weird” — like, yeah, we get it already. She addresses that feeling far more effectively later in the album, like on “No Meaning” which opens with her singing, “If you could see what’s inside my head, you’d be disappointed/I’m just concentrating on not falling down and not saying anything stupid.”
Overall, Weird is another strong release from the veteran singer-songwriter, with a melancholic, angsty indie sound that feels as appropriate in 2019 as it would have back in 1992. Hatfield produced the entire album, and also enhanced the ’90s vibe by enlisting help from her former collaborators, Freda Love Smith from the Blake Babies and Todd Philips from the Lemonheads on drums. (Hatfield played bass and sang some backup vocals on the Lemonheads’ It’s a Shame About Ray, including, of course, my personal favorite, “Alison’s Starting to Happen.”)
“All Right, Yeah” is the track I’ll be returning to the most on Weird, thanks to her infectious, catchy guitar riffs matched with almost uncharacteristically carefree lyrics: “breathing hard, I’m sticky/I’m dancing in bare feet...I’m tongue-tied/I can’t lie/All I can say is that I know I’m gonna get free.” “Lost Ship” is another favorite, with Hatfield singing “I wanna ride on a spaceship in my mind/Across my own private ocean” paired with a guitar that’s so moody, I wish it had existed during the peak of my teenage angst in the late ’90s. It definitely would have fit in as well as her track “Spin the Bottle” did on the Reality Bites soundtrack. I can just picture Janeane Garofalo and Winona Ryder jamming out to this in the car.
There are a couple tracks that are a solid miss for me — “Sugar” and “Everything’s for Sale” are likely going to get skipped over from here on out — but Weird is still another welcome release from Hatfield that warrants repeat listens. While she might claim that she’s “just a set of headphones and a girl, that’s all there is to it,” on final track “Do It to Music,” she’s so much more than that — she’s a woman who set the stage for a younger generation of rockers like Snail Mail, Mitski and Sharon Van Etten to find their shine as well, and feel free to be a little weird while doing so.