Sunburn is not just the Blake Babies' best album, it's in many ways the last great college rock album, the album that's the pinnacle of the U.S. indie guitar scene of the late '80s, and the album that exemplifies what "alternative" meant in those pre-Nevermind days when the term was actually understood to mean something. Juliana Hatfield, John Strohm, and Freda Love (puckishly billed here as Freda Boner) create a literate, emotionally direct brand of catchy, melodic pop based on the post-punk jangle pop of the '80s, but with a slightly tougher edge, particularly in Strohm's guitar sound. For the first time, Strohm contributes two solo writing credits on which he sings lead, the disturbing "Girl in a Box" and the anthemic "Train," which somehow manages to quote both "Mystery Train" and "I Melt with You." However, Sunburn is primarily the album on which Juliana Hatfield's songwriting prowess first flourishes, and it's possibly her finest collection of songs. Kicking off with the one-two punch of the tart kiss-off "I'm Not Your Mother" and the aching "Out There," the finest song of the Blake Babies' career, the album continues through ten more punchy guitar pop songs with lyrics filled with Hatfield's trademark combination of innocence, brashness, wit, and moments of extreme self-doubt. "I'll Take Anything" and "Kiss and Make Up" are early examples of the kind of disarming emotional vulnerability further explored on the more controversial songs of Hatfield's early solo career. "Watch Me Now, I'm Calling," though, has to be the most emotionally masochistic song of Hatfield's entire career, expressing romantic dependency in disturbingly graphic images of physical self-mutilation, which become all the more powerful and discomfiting given Hatfield's perfectly matter-of-fact delivery. It's an unpleasant song, but an oddly fascinating one with the same sort of compellingly real tone as some of Kristin Hersh's early Throwing Muses songs. On a more upbeat note, "Look Away" has a spirited chorus and wittily phrased lyrics, and "Star" seems, in retrospect, to foreshadow Hatfield's ambivalent response to her media darling image circa 1994. Gary Smith's production keeps things simple without sounding like the songs are unfinished or under-arranged, and Strohm, Hatfield, and Love have the casually impressive interplay of a band who know they're making the best record of their career. Elements outside of their control would change the musical landscape seemingly overnight within a year of Sunburn's release; so what else could they do except break up? They split amicably in early 1991.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason