When last we heard from Juliana Hatfield, she and Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws were collaborating rather splendidly as Minor Alps. The singer seemed thrilled to share the project’s weight; as she told the Globe in 2013, “It’s strange to not be out there as Juliana Hatfield, solo artist, and to be half of something that is greater than myself, and that’s very rejuvenating.”
It couldn’t have been all that strange. Since the early-1990s split of the Blake Babies, Hatfield has periodically ensconced herself in one group or another, with Minor Alps following Some Girls, a Blake Babies reunion, and a stint or two in the Lemonheads. And so it is with “Whatever, My Love,” which reconvenes the Juliana Hatfield Three, the band that squired her through her popular breakthrough, for the first time in two decades.
The irony, of course, is in the name: Nominally a band, the Three is largely indistinguishable from Hatfield solo, especially since bassist Dean Fisher and drummer Todd Philips continued to work with Hatfield (but not at the same time) after the band officially disbanded. There’s a temptation to view “Whatever, My Love” as a companion piece to its lone predecessor, 1993’s “Become What You Are,” when really it’s just another Hatfield album.
As such, it lives and dies by standard Hatfield calculus. The turn following the title phrase of the buoyant, churning “Now That I Have Found You” (“. . . I don’t know what I’m supposed to do”) is a welcome inversion of expectations. The album’s most aggressive song (“Push Pin”) nevertheless features a melodic shift toward the end that fills it with light. And “I’m Shy” is the classic Hatfield that listeners know and love and maybe loathe; a slice of low-self-esteem alt-pop with a catchy vocal hook and tough guitar riff, it’s ingratiatingly appealing, and also precisely what her detractors hated about her long ago.
But other songs that draw from the same ingredients fall flat. “If I Could” delivers a pep talk to the younger Hatfield — “You’re really, really beautiful / Why do you think you’re ugly?” — though the singsong jangle-pop is slighter than she should be delivering at this point. “If Only We Were Dogs,” meanwhile, adds a grungy sheen to a bad extended metaphor that was more excusable when paired with a sparer, less-produced backdrop on her 2007 team-up with Frank Smith.
It’s not the only work Hatfield submits for a second time. “I Don’t Know What to Do With My Hands” was a highlight of Minor Alps’ “Get There.” Here, too, but the repurposed version is less dynamic, the warm, subtle contours of the original flattened noticeably. It’s not a fatal change by any stretch. And if Hatfield needs to surround herself with friends and call it a band to put herself at ease, who are we to judge? (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “I’m Shy“
The Juliana Hatfield Three performs at the Sinclair on Feb. 27.Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com.