Juliana Hatfield, How to Walk Away
Hatfield discovers a new level of artistic freedom with her elegant and polished 10th solo album.
Juliana Hatfield doesn’t do drastic, Liz Phair-style mid-career makeovers. She redecorates — moves the furniture around and updates the lighting. While 2005′s Made In China found the waifish pop singer/songwriter flexing her muscles with gritty garage rock, the new How to Walk Away eschews heavy lifting. Hatfield’s 10th solo album is clean, elegant and polished to a vintage-modern sheen. Producer Andy Chase (also of stylish Euro-pop outfit Ivy) emphasizes plush beds of gurgling keyboards and crisp acoustic-guitar strums, and Hatfield — widely regarded as a girlish singer with Gen-X teen spirit — sounds positively womanly. On “Just Lust,” she dismisses a one-night stand with the kind of calculated, dead-eyed cool you’d expect from Aimee Mann. It may not be coincidental that Hatfield’s memoir, When I Grow Up, is being published almost concurrently with the release of How to Walk Away. She’s at a crossroads where exhaustion from two decades spent toiling in alt rock (did we mention it’s her 10th solo album?) intersects with genuine artistic freedom (Hatfield now self-releases her music on her own label). How to Walk Away clearly chooses the second path, with Hatfield in control at every turn. Though the Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler and Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws appear as guest vocalists (on “This Lonely Love” and “Such a Beautiful Girl,” respectively), they’re hardly duet partners; Hatfield is way up in the mix as her male counterparts add texture and blend into the background. Lyrically, most of the songs here concern breaking boys’ hearts and getting out the door — fast. “It was you or me/ So I left/ Now I’m gone,” sings Hatfield matter-of-factly, aptly summing up her latest creation: a break-up album without any tears.