May 15, 2000 12:00 PM

Juliana Hatfield (Zoë/Rounder)

Call Hatfield a rocker in a hard place. In the early 1990s, as leader of the Boston band Blake Babies, she established herself as one of the top female singer-songwriters in the grungy alternative-music scene. Now that teen pop is hot, Hatfield isn’t. She appears to have hedged her bets by dividing her energies between Beautiful Creature, a perfectly pleasant collection of folkish pop gems, and a simultaneously released down-and-dirty hard-rock album, Total System Failure, with her trio Juliana’s Pony. (Both CDs are available in a two-disc set or separately.) Creature is more likely to appeal to a wider audience with its Joni Mitchell-like introspection and breezy harmonies, but one ends up wishing that it had more of Pony’s noisy spunk. By splitting her personality, Hatfield ends up with two half-appealing albums, while combining the best of both in one might have been truly beautiful.

Bottom Line: Talented popster takes a strange detour

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