"How To Walk Away" was an album that I actually wanted to dislike immensely-- Juliana Hatfield, a personal favorite of mine, was recording an album with producer Andy Chase (of the band Ivy). In interviews, Chase had what I quite honestly took quite a derisive tone with Hatfield's music, referring to it as stuck in the past and how he was dragging her into the modern world. This combined with what I heard from the album really quite solidified my opinion-- Hatfield's guitar was no longer at the fore of her music, it was like Chase was trying to turn her into, well, Ivy. So I spun the disc, first few listens solidified my opinion. But then, something clicked.
Turns out, "How To Walk Away" is a pretty good record.
Hatfield, always someone capable of draping emotion right in front of a microphone, has an album where her vocal delivery is pretty much at the fore. The press makes a big buzz about this being a breakup record, an assertion I'd support, and Hatfield sings plaintively not so much of broken romance or loss, but rather of melancholy and disappointment, pieces like opener "The Fact Remains" and "My Baby..." aren't angry or resentful or disappointed, they're honest and painful. Throughout, Hatfield's vocal supported by driving acoustic guitars, bouncing synthesizers and burbling lead guitars. Truthfully, it sounds less like a "modern" production and more like something out the '70s (and quite reminds me of Aimee Mann's The Forgotten Arm in that regard).
But of all the things I could say about it, the best compliment I could offer is that the record stirred up memories for me, it reminded me of myself, and if Hatfield can pull off that level of personal connection, that's really quite something. It also doesn't hurt that there's a couple cuts I could play over and over again-- I mean, the quiet subtlety of "Such a Beautiful Girl" with its just staggering harmonies on the chorus just floored me. And slicing through the low key vibe and melancholy of the album straight in the middle, "Just Lust" is wrapped in swagger and attitude with and angular guitar line that could have come off a mid-80s Cult album and an emotionless delivery from Hatfield that'll knock you over.
Having said all this, the album does suffer from almost a sameness of production-- "The Fact Remains" kicks you in the face with its subtlety awash in acoustic guitar and subtle synthesizers, but the next piece, "Shining On", pretty much tries to do the same thing, albeit with an emphasis on strings. It's not that there's a band song there, but the impact of the latter is lessened by the former. Nonetheless, this is a great album-- it's not quite alongside the best of Hatfield's work, but it's awfully good. Highly recommended.