Become What You Are

The Juliana Hatfield Three

Mammoth / Atlantic Records, 1993

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Possibly no album I've listened to in the last six months pleases and frustrates me as The Juliana Hatfield Three's 1993 (and only) release Become What You Are.

I don't know why, but how I feel about this album changes literally at the drop of a hat. I pulled it out of the Pierce Archives (good seats still available for our Super Bowl party) for the first time in a couple of years, popped it into my tape deck... and promptly cringed. However, a repeat listen a few hours later found me liking the album again.

Hatfield (who first cut her teeth with Blake Babies), by the time Become What You Are came out, had gained some fame as a guest musician for buddy Evan Dando's band The Lemonheads. Gathering bassist Dean Fisher and drummer Todd Phillips, Hatfield returned to the scene with this album, and promptly gained a minor hit on alternative radio with "My Sister," one of the better songs on the album. But it would be the teenage-crush-slash-sexual-discovery song "Spin The Bottle"'s inclusion on the soundtrack to my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Reality Bites that would win this album eternal fame.

"Spin The Bottle" relates to a young woman's crush on a minor celebrity and, in graphic detail, wears her hopes on her sleeve ("She is such a sucker / He don't want to fuck her", "Five minutes in a closet with you"). The brashness predates fellow alternative grrl-rocker Liz Phair just a tad, but still maintains a sugar-sweetness that Phair never could hope to have. This could be due to Hatfield's cherub-like vocals and clicking acoustic guitar track.

Her feelings on sexuality in general, as well as social "issues", can be heard on many songs here. An example, two lines from "Supermodel": "The highest paid piece of ass / You know it's not gonna last". "Mabel" takes a look at the social outcasts, though the rather annoying thunk-thunk-thunk of guitar and drums in the chorus ruins the mood for me. Fortunately for Hatfield, she segues from this track directly into a rush-thriller, "A Dame With A Rod".

At times, Hatfield's songwriting reminds me of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana's; it would be easy for me to put "Little Pieces" next to Nirvana's "On A Plain" and be able to favorably compare the two. Other times, the child-like simplicity of the songs tends to be her undoing, as "For The Birds," an okay song as it is, proves.

And Scott Litt, I love whar you've done for such acts as Indigo Girls and R.E.M., but -- and I mean this respectfully -- you're just not the right guy to produce Hatfield's sound. Had I not read the liner notes, I most likely would have missed the fact you were involved in this album. (For that matter, so was Peter Holsapple, another unofficial "fifth member" of R.E.M.)

But for all the bellyaching I could do about this album, Become What You Are does excel in one thing: Hatfield easily tops any of the major label releases of Dando's Lemonheads. (I'll withhold making a blanket statement about their albums on Taang! Records, as I haven't heard them all yet.) There is a solid poppiness throughout the album that, at the absolute worst, makes it listenable. At best, it makes you want to superglue the tape into your deck.

But just as the finger of fate is so fickle in the world of alternative music, Become What You Are will either be a wonderful discovery or re-discovery, or it will be an average listen for you. I'll err on the side of caution and say it's worth checking out.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Mammoth / Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.