Juliana Hatfield

Juliana's Pony: Total System Failure

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If Beautiful Creature captured Juliana Hatfield at the peak of her powers, its companion piece Total System Failure -- a band effort by her latest power trio, Juliana's Pony - is its polar opposite. Messy, noisy, directionless, and painfully shy on both tunes and purpose, it's the sonic representation of Hatfield's id unleashed. She makes a lot of noise, releases a lot of angst, tries to rock -- and winds up sounding a bit like a parody. Take a track like "Houseboy," where she tries her hand at satire with a bit of reverse sexism as she pines for a boy that will wait on her hand and foot. On paper, this reads well, but the lyrics are thuddingly obvious, plodding nearly as heavily as the lumbering music. This is not an isolated example, just the most egregious misstep on an album full of them. Arriving at the same time as the lovely, measured Beautiful Creature, Total System Failure is a reminder why Hatfield never became the star some predicted she would be at the height of alterna-mania in 1993: her desire to rock undercuts the very gifts that make her tuneful, ringing guitar pop appealing. This time around, it's rather fortunate that she divided the two parts of her personality between two records. It may result in a dud like Total System Failure, but it's also given us the fine Beautiful Creature.

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