“I let them dress me up in other people’s clothes / But you still don’t wanna know,” sings Juliana Hatfield during “Invisible,” the melodious opening track to The Juliana Hatfield Three’s sophomore release Whatever, My Love. The other two of the three are drummer Todd Philips, and bassist Dean Fisher. And if this album hasn’t been a long time coming, I don’t know what is, considering that their debut, Become What You Are, was released way back in 1993. 22 years ago! Of course, Hatfield has released 11 solo albums since then, so it’s not like fans really needed her to reform The Juliana Hatfield Three. But I’m sure some of them wanted it, since many of her fans think Become What You Are is one of her best albums. And if you like Hatfield solo, then you’re just as likely to like this album. To tell you the truth, I’m a Hatfield fan and I’d have to say this is one of her career best records. While I’ve enjoyed all of her solo albums, I definitely prefer this over the last few. Which isn’t to say they’re bad. Not at all. What this means is that I’m absolutely in love with this record, which is more or less about awkward love.
“It’s never easy, but this makes it so hard,” Hatfield sings on “Now That I Have Found You,” one of the album’s choice cuts, which features some of her finest guitar playing to date with a particularly swirling part that’s incredibly infectious. On the grungey “Ordinary Love” she sings, “My boyfriend’s mean / He shoots up in front of me / In the daytime he sleeps.” She comes across as the girl who’s put up with all the shit she’s going to take, the girl who’s about to send the guy packing. One can’t help but suspect that that’s the point Hatfield has reached in real life, as she sounds more confident than she generally has in the past on this record. It’s almost as though she’s saying this is the last album I’ll make that’s populated by you losers. But, hey, she’s written some damn fine songs about them here, so it’s not like they can complain. Although I’m sure they will. You know how losers are.
On the album’s first single, the pop-minded “If I Could,” she sings about wanting to take someone’s pain away, wanting to make everything all right, to bring him home. But he’s already gone. And so there’s a sadness in her voice here. It’s a sadness we’ve heard in her voice many times throughout the years, but this time around she sounds very sure of herself, not riddled with the doubt she’s often projected through her songs. And even though it’s a sad song, it’s one of the catchiest tunes she’s ever released. To that end, Whatever, My Love is one of the most accessible albums she’s ever released. Normally, you have to spin one of her records a few times to really get a good feel for the songs, but here they’re instantly rewarding. Relatable, too.
For the past two decades Juliana has thrived off of a loyal core audience. I’m sure she’s earned a great many new fans during that time as well, but I don’t know if she’s ever released an album that’s as poised to make her even more fans than this. If you want your friends to get into her, this is the perfect record to expose them to first. And if you were once a fan but lost track of her over the years, this is also the ideal record to catch up with her with.