It has been more than two decades since The Juliana Hatfield Three‘s last, and only, full-length, Become What You Are, helped make its frontwoman an alt-rock darling. She remained remarkably prolific (releasing five LPs, solo and with collaborative projects, in the past five years alone), but the 1993 set boasted what is likely Hatfield’s defining song, the sweetly caustic “My Sister.” As a result, Hatfield’s JH3 era, with drummer Todd Philips and bassist Dean Fisher, has come to be regarded as her watershed moment.
All of which means Whatever, My Love arrives with an extra bit of anticipation from Hatfield enthusiasts. And, much like its forebear, the album’s 12 tunes are tight, tidy pop-rockers, presented in her characteristic straightforward-yet-slightly-skewed manner. See the needlepoint guitar that tears through the otherwise unadorned power-pop chugger “Push Pin,” or how, on “Wood,” her voice virtually mimics every twist of the circular chord progression.
Speaking of that voice, Hatfield, now 47, still sounds very much the eternal adolescent, her phrasing and timbre pegged somewhere between coiled petulance and blunt indifference. It’s her most distinctive asset, and a perfect foil for her vivid if seemingly tossed-off character sketches: the boyfriend who shoots up in front of her in “Ordinary Guy,” the dude in “I’m Shy” with the “messed up hair and the Corvair.”
But Hatfield is at her descriptive best on “I Don’t Know What to Do With My Hands,” where, during the course of three-and-a-half minutes, she does pretty much nothing: scratches her shoulder, bites her nails, peels a label off a bottle. It’s an inertia that contains oceans of restlessness, perfect for an artist resurrecting her encased-in-alt-rock-amber past.