Juliana Hatfield was the Christina Aguilera of an entire generation of early ’90s insecure, blue-haired alternateens. We followed her virgin status and love life with dreamy Lemonhead Evan Dando in fanzines galore. We saved the issue of Sassy with her and her bass on the cover. We sighed as she sang about “wanting to fuck shit up” in a sunshiny little-girl soprano. And we taped the episode of “My So-Called Life” where she played the guitar-toting homeless angel. But before her stunning solo career, from Hey Babe to Become What You Are to last year’s two CD releases — Beautiful Creature and Total System Failure, Hatfield made eight records with the Blake Babies — a band that was “alternative” and “indie-rock” before the terms were invented.
And now, nearly 10 years after the band’s frictional break-up; Hatfield, Freda Love (drums) and John Strohm (guitar) have reunited to make God Bless the Blake Babies, a one-off album of songs that’ll make you fall in love with the band all over again. The only differences are that they’re older, more experienced on their instruments and comfortable in a reflective state. Which isn’t to say the music is rusty or missing any charming naïveté. It’s quite relevant in its reflective nature, kicking us in the ass, reminding everyone that quality and intuitive creativity still count.
Hatfield wasn’t the only Baby working after the split. Love and Strohm played in a psych-rock group called Antenna. Then Love formed The Mysteries of Life with husband Jake Smith. After Antenna, Strohm toured with the Lemonheads, then formed Velo-Deluxe. Then he did solo and session work.
The continuing development makes itself apparent in God Bless, where we hear a huskier Hatfield, a more palpable percussive beat from Love and fuller, more saturated guitar sound from Strohm. We also hear cameos from Dando, including a nostalgic duet with Hatfield called “Brain Damage,” written by the former Lemonhead and Ben Lee. A stretched-out, gorgeous rendering of Madder Rose’s “Baby Gets High” is another album highlight.
The Blake Babies wrote the rest of the songs, two each, demonstrating a wholly collaborative, interwoven “band” effort and presenting a diverse offering of thoughtful, melancholic and sweet pop-rock tunes. Each one explores those undefined emotions — those without a name, symbol or color assigned to them, the emotions we rarely hear about in song. The chemistry displayed in each track is even more impressive, considering the three band members live in different states. They mailed the material to each other and got together for 10 days in Indiana to record. What came out of those sessions is a much-appreciated breath of fresh air in today’s glutinous popular swarm of stupidity.
Dear God, it’s me, Melissa. Please let everyone hear this record and love it as much as I do! Maybe then we’ll find a way out of this tangled mess of genre specialization and just plain loads of crap. Oh, and could you maybe put in a good word to Throwing Muses too? Hey, thanks. Good night.
Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times staff music writer. E-mail her at [email protected].