(American Laundromat Records, out Fri 18 Jan 2019)
The album opens purposefully with Staying In, a drivealong finger-drummer of chugging mid-tempo guitars. “I’m staying in / My head’s not right / And if I go out somebody might take me for a functioning human being,” runs the main refrain. Great line, and maybe honest self-reflection. But disfunction is not something that makes itself musically apparent on this collection of fairly straight-down-the-line indie rock. Weird it isn’t particularly. The soundtrack to a kooky 90s high school TV drama, maybe, but one in which the lead characters were destined for cool-yet-respectable careers as human rights lawyers and literature professors. Or “admission to the Ivy League and very white teeth,” as she sings disparagingly on Everything’s For Sale.
Nothing here rocks the boat. It’s leftfield in attitude, but conventional in its deployment of indie-pop melody. Hatfield’s voice has always been… well, smooth suggests something more syrupy and mainstream, but certainly airbrushed of jagged edges. Even age hasn’t cracked the surface. It remains a very useful counterpoint to the guitars, but there’s the danger of it tipping over into something tame and plainly poppy as Do It To Music. “When we celebrate / we do it to music / bake you a chocolate birthday cake / we do it to music” – Tiffany gone indie.
There are reminders here and there, however, that while you’re being fed a fairly regular alt-rock diet, it is of superior quality – a peculiar timbre to the guitar, or a well-dispatched solo offer an occasional mouthful of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes among the more standard variety. All Right, Yeah successfully suggests British beat bands. Lost Ship has something of To Bring Me Your Love-era PJ Harvey about it which is all to the good. The see-sawing plucked guitar of Paid To Lie supplies another kind of tonal variety. More importantly, the dialled down guitar calls for a different quality of vocal. Somewhere in the strain for higher notes and increased delicacy, cracks and textures appear in her voice that don’t come through in the more conventional indie-rock numbers.
Tracks like No Meaning though wouldn’t have sounded out of place back in Hatfield’s early days. It’s these that let the side down a little, preventing the album from establishing its own distinct identity. To quote a Scottish band of the era, Weird is “tied to the 90s”.