Juliana Hatfield's solo career has been a bit erratic. Touted as the next big thing at the peak of the alt-rock revolution of the early '90s, as the genre fell out of fashion in the latter half of the '90s, so did Hatfield, acrimoniously parting ways with her major label, Atlantic, and returning to the indie leagues. It took her awhile to find her footing as an indie cult artist, but as the new millennium began, she released the appealingly modest Beautiful Creature, which suggested the beginning of a comeback. After a detour with the female alt-rock supergroup Some Girls, she returned refreshed with In Exile Deo, her strongest album in years, rivaling her indie pop breakthrough, Hey Babe. Where that record was sweet and innocent, an outgrowth of the collegiate jangle pop of the '80s, this is a harder record in nearly every sense, from the louder guitars to her world-weary attitude. In the best sense, Hatfield sounds mature for the first time, bringing together the precious pop and ringing rock that she had compartmentalized on the simultaneously released Beautiful Creature and Total System Failure, and writing with a wry, knowing sense of irony. The love affairs and failed relationships she chronicles on the 13 songs resonate with revealing details, reflecting a bruised, bittersweet heart. Her voice has rough edges, lending the album a sense of gravity, and the production is similarly lively and ragged, and that's why In Exile Deo is exciting and fun even if all the songs are about dysfunctional relationships. Plus, it doesn't hurt that the songs are assuredly melodic and memorable, arguably her most consistent set of tunes to date, making this not just a pleasant surprise but an album that grows in stature with repeated listens. Even though this is surely one of her two best albums, it's possible that Juliana Hatfield in the mid-'90s is no more than a cult artist -- frankly, it suits her better than the ingénue of the early '90s -- but listeners who came of age during the alt-rock revolution and were disappointed, even outraged, at Liz Phair's Matrix makeover in 2003 should find In Exile Deo is exactly what they were looking for.
In Exile Deo Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine