After her stint in the Blake Babies and a solo career that skidded between wild success and aimless drifting, Juliana Hatfield seemingly disappeared for the second half of the '90s. Years after being the media darling with her sulky good looks and "are they or aren't they?" relationship with Lemonhead Evan Dando, she parted ways with Atlantic Records, only to release one mellow indie album in 1998.
Now, though, Hatfield is making up for lost time. Not only is there talk of a Blake Babies reunion, she comes to St. Louis on her most extensive tour in years supporting not just one but two new albums. Beautiful Creature and Total System Failure highlight the split that always lay at the center of her music, the uneasy peace between her jaded, confessional singer/songwriter style and the landmine bursts of jagged guitar. Creature concentrates almost solely on the brainier, more sensitive tunes, whereas System shreds feedback over almost metallic rhythms. Yet not even Hatfield can fully keep her dual personality intact; the visceral System (recorded by Juliana's Pony, featuring Mikey Welsh of Weezer) has some of her smartest and funniest lyrics, especially when she lashes out at stupid "Breeders" or derides a portly male friend in "Leather Pants." Creature, meanwhile, isn't as sappy or touchy-feely as it seems on paper -- "Daniel" and "Don't Rush Me" are two of her best crunch-pop tunes since Become What You Are.
And, of course, neither side is complete on its own (anyone who loves one will hate the other), but with 26 songs between them, these two albums map out Hatfield's familiar musical territory and her recent growth, her sullen hardness and the optimism that keeps her from giving up. Now that she's got it all figured out, with any luck it won't be another five years till there's another album and tour.