Wondering, like Slezak and me, why Juliana Hatfield hasn’t been a bigger hitmaker? I think it’s because, while her work is consistently excellent, there’s some part of her that’s always seemed stuck in 1994. That was a career-high year for her, when she was coming off the success of her hit “My Sister” and was so ubiquitous that she even landed a cameo in the hip-show-of-the-moment, My So-Called Life, where she played a singing ghost waif. (See clip below).
On her blog (hat tip to Stereogum), she has a new reminiscence of filming that episode, including meeting costar/future 30 Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto. You can also hear her song from the MSCL soundtrack, “Make It Home,” streaming in full on her MySpace page, along with a new track, a typically beautiful uptempo rocker called “Shining On,” from her forthcoming CD, How to Walk Away (due June 10).
Thing is, I’m not sure Hatfield has ever known how to walk away. “Shining On,” wonderful as it is, sounds like it could have been recorded back in her early-’90s heyday. There’s nothing wrong with consistency, and I never get tired of her classic power-pop sound, but there’s something in us that demands growth and development from our favorite musicians, something that wants them to branch out into new territory and take risks even as we relish the familiarity and comfort of their well-worn turf. That sort of artistry makes for a more satisfying narrative arc than journeyman craftsmanship. Maybe the fact that we value a good backstory over consistently good songs makes us childish and immature; maybe we’re the ones who haven’t grown, not artisans like Hatfield. Something to ponder, at any rate, as you read her prose and listen to her tunes.