Hatfield's the Real McCoy

Will Juliana Hatfield fans find the Beautiful Creature in Juliana's Pony, or will it be a Total System Failure?

Fans will simply have to flip between the two to get that balance of love and vengeance. Those unwilling to go along with either overriding mood for long are best advised to put both CDs in the player and hit scramble mode. Hatfield confesses to not having made a similar sonic omelet yet, though her live shows do jump from one album to the other. And while Juliana's Pony is a group effort in which she co-wrote four songs with Ponyman and former Weezer bassist Mikey Walsh, the current combo Hatfield is touring with is an entirely different band.

"Live, we seem to be leaning more towards the Beautiful Creaturematerial, but if the crowd is in the right kind of mood and if the club is more of a rock vibe, we'll break out more of the Pony stuff," she says. "We're not doing very much old stuff. About five or six songs."

Apparently, she has no trouble with her schizophrenic set list. "It's all just about what mood I'm in," she says. "When I'm singing a song like "Slow Motion,' it makes total sense 'cause that's the mood I'm in, and when I'm singing a song called "Metal Fume Fever,' it makes perfect sense at the time because that's the mood I'm in. It doesn't seem weird because both of them seem real to me. People are complex. I'm just showing my complexity."

In a unique move, both albums are also housed together in a special-edition boxed set that lists for $24.95, significantly cheaper than the 30-something bucks it costs to purchase the CDs individually. In addition, the deluxe box contains a third bonus CD that includes a different version of "When You Loved Me" and a cover of the Police's "Every Breath You Take."

"And," adds Hatfield with apparent disinterest, "there's stuff for the computer, screen saver, notes from me, pictures, stupid stuff like that." For someone who named an album Total System Failure, it's a tad surprising that Hatfield has zero interest in computers or the Internet. "I think I'm the only person who doesn't have a Web site," she says, though there are at least a dozen sites dedicated to her music.

Equally low on the list of priorities is getting the kind of breakout hit that will catapult her out of cult status. "Commercially? I can't really see it happening with either one, but you never know," she shrugs. "It's really up to the people."

When the push behind "modern rock" was in full swing, Hatfield scored two Top 100 hits with "Spin the Bottle" (from the soundtrack to Reality Bites) and "Universal Heart-Beat." Those were different times for commercial radio and unfortunately short-lived; her label, Atlantic, dropped her in 1996 when alternative became a dirty word and they claimed they didn't hear any hits on God's Foot, her proposed follow-up to Only Everything.

"God's Foot is more produced, more arranged, there's some strings. A lot of different keyboards. It's really pretty and poppy. I don't know what else to say about it," she sighs.

That record is still languishing in Atlantic's vaults and will likely never see release unless Hatfield somehow manages to rack up elephant-dollar sales in the future. In the case of her latest endeavor, operating outside the confines of a major label has clearly proved to be a benefit. It's doubtful Atlantic would've ever encouraged putting out a pair of diametrically opposed collections at the same time. Zoe/Rounder, on the other hand, seems to relish the challenge of promoting two different records to two different radio formats.

"What seems to be happening is some of the adult stations are playing "Someone Is Waiting For Me,' like the more slightly progressive but more commercial adult AAA or AC stations," Hatfield explains. "The record company might work "My Protégé' to rock radio."

The latter song comes dangerously close to approximating Zeppelin's "Moby Dick" riff but puts in some hilarious lyrical twists that the male-dominated listeners of hard-rock radio will probably have a difficult time with: "If you want/she'll act like you turn her on/She knows just what to say/There's money everywhere so laugh at their stupid jokes."

Audiences accustomed to the Cookie Monster vocal stylings of Slipknot and Type O Negative will probably punch the station button the minute they hear Hatfield's Josie and the Pussycats croon. Which is probably why the opening track "Metal Fume Fever" is blanketed with 15 seconds of "White Thrash" and a testosteroned vocal groan that couldbe Hatfield with a harmonizer, for all we know.

"Well," she says kindly before getting in the last word. "I don't want to give away all my secrets."

Juliana Hatfield is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, June 14, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe, with Go Big Casino and Jamal Ruhe. Showtime is 9 p.m.

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