“Girls with guitars were all the rage,” Juliana Hatfield says, explaining the circumstances surrounding her mid-’90s major-label deal. “I sort of tried to play the [industry’s] game for awhile ... but I was disqualified because I wouldn’t smile for the camera.” Duh: When it comes to female musicians, lips and hips matter most to the big boys, so it was practically inevitable that Atlantic would send her packing when she refused to p(r)imp and preen after her buzz-bin-sized successes (“My Sister,” “Universal Heartbeat”). Unfortunately, ignoring the biz’s sexist double standards has cost her a mainstream presence ever since.
Which may be why Gold Stars, Hatfield’s 20-track solo retrospective, leans heavily toward her post-Atlantic output. I can’t blame her for wanting to bring listeners up to speed on her low-profile career of late, but it makes for a rather lopsided look back. By reducing her first three albums to only five songs — while overloading on excellent new numbers — the album lacks some of her better-known material, particularly from 1993’s Become What You Are. Still, Gold Stars is a flawed-but-fine collection of Hatfield’s moody, melancholic pop rock, adeptly illustrating how the ex-Blake Baby became one of Alternative Nation’s most emotionally incisive, insightful voices.
Having survived the same industry binge ’n’ purge of so-called girls-with-guitars as Hatfield, Anna Waronker also learned a thing or two about the bullshit of being alt-rock’s next big thing. Five years after being handed her DGC walking papers from That Dog (“He’s Kissing Christian”), she’s now playing by her rules and releasing the sublime, New Wave-inspired solo debut on her own label. Indie life suits her too: Anna by Anna Waronker is her most infectious work yet, with 14 clap-along tracks of harmonic heartbreak and pure summer-pop perfection — windows down, radio up.
Not that Waronker or Hatfield have delusions of actually getting on the airwaves anymore. They went through that alt-rock wringer six years ago, and have emerged with some of their best work on their own terms. Just don’t call it a comeback, ’cause they’ve been here all along.
E-mail Jimmy Draper at firstname.lastname@example.org.