For Juliana Hatfield fans, the release of There’s Always Another Girl should feel like an accomplishment. The songwriter’s been in a near-daily conversation with them about the album’s recording process through her PledgeMusic website and raised money by selling unique items and experiences on the site. Things fans could “pledge” for through the site ranged from a personal Skype session with the singer to the downright-weird “certified” lock of hair. These die-hards got the VIP treatment right up until the album’s completion, hearing There’s Always Another Girl a month early, and now Hatfield will see what the rest of the world thinks of it this week.
With these pledges funding a lot of the project (Hatfield’s PledgeMusic site says 489 percent of her fundraising goal was met), Hatfield created an album that was truly hers, and there’s a lot of good (and bad) that is tied to that. Not surprisingly for Hatfield fans, the album leans heavily on guitar-based songs that include razor-thin guitar tones and acoustic-led tracks. The singer’s pristine voice shines through on the album’s best track, the quirky, bopping “Sex and Drugs,” which doesn’t quite turn out to be the party its title promises. Instead, the song slams the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” culture and its effect on women in both its lyrics and an anti-guitar solo that puts buzzes and whirrs in the place of full-note string bends.
But There’s Always Another Girl abstains from the rock and roll spirit in another way that isn’t as beneficial to the music—the album’s rubbing alcohol-sterile production. Tracks like “Candy Wrappers” and “Taxicab” are perfect in all the wrong ways. With its corny synth parts and a straightforward rhythm, “Candy Wrappers” sounds like a Pinkerton-era Weezer track without all the charm—the dirtied-up downstroked guitars and fuzzy, almost-clipping drums. And whether Hatfield likes it or not, she has a piercing clarity to her voice that makes her harmonies either angelically smooth or too much to handle all at once.
But beyond these issues, there’s a songwriter who has been honing her craft over several decades. “Don’t Wanna Dance”’s wiry guitar intro is interrupted by Hatfield’s dog’s incredible timing (think “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction) before launching into a relaxed, timeless rock groove. “Batteries” builds and builds before introducing a heavily modulated synth that sounds like it was built to induce paranoia. It’s moments like these that show Hatfield’s ability to take advantage of her own intentional, focused ideas and meld them with spontaneous moments of creative opportunity. There’s Always Another Girl isn’t perfect, but it is an awfully focused effort coming from an artist that is doing it for the right reasons.