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Album Review

Sunburn is not just the Blake Babies' best album, it's in many ways the last great college rock album, the album that's the pinnacle of the U.S. indie guitar scene of the late '80s, and the album that exemplifies what "alternative" meant in those pre-Nevermind days when the term was actually understood to mean something. Juliana Hatfield, John Strohm, and Freda Love (puckishly billed here as Freda Boner) create a literate, emotionally direct brand of catchy, melodic pop based on the post-punk jangle pop of the '80s, but with a slightly tougher edge, particularly in Strohm's guitar sound. For the first time, Strohm contributes two solo writing credits on which he sings lead, the disturbing "Girl in a Box" and the anthemic "Train," which somehow manages to quote both "Mystery Train" and "I Melt with You." However, Sunburn is primarily the album on which Juliana Hatfield's songwriting prowess first flourishes, and it's possibly her finest collection of songs. Kicking off with the one-two punch of the tart kiss-off "I'm Not Your Mother" and the aching "Out There," the finest song of the Blake Babies' career, the album continues through ten more punchy guitar pop songs with lyrics filled with Hatfield's trademark combination of innocence, brashness, wit, and moments of extreme self-doubt. "I'll Take Anything" and "Kiss and Make Up" are early examples of the kind of disarming emotional vulnerability further explored on the more controversial songs of Hatfield's early solo career. "Watch Me Now, I'm Calling," though, has to be the most emotionally masochistic song of Hatfield's entire career, expressing romantic dependency in disturbingly graphic images of physical self-mutilation, which become all the more powerful and discomfiting given Hatfield's perfectly matter-of-fact delivery. It's an unpleasant song, but an oddly fascinating one with the same sort of compellingly real tone as some of Kristin Hersh's early Throwing Muses songs. On a more upbeat note, "Look Away" has a spirited chorus and wittily phrased lyrics, and "Star" seems, in retrospect, to foreshadow Hatfield's ambivalent response to her media darling image circa 1994. Gary Smith's production keeps things simple without sounding like the songs are unfinished or under-arranged, and Strohm, Hatfield, and Love have the casually impressive interplay of a band who know they're making the best record of their career. Elements outside of their control would change the musical landscape seemingly overnight within a year of Sunburn's release; so what else could they do except break up? They split amicably in early 1991.

Customer Reviews

Indie rock rocks!

Juliana Hatfield, John Strohm and Freda Love combine for one of the best independent albums in my experience...a true collaborative effort, with John Frohm contributing to the vocals, Freda Love contributes a pop drumbeat/percussion effort, and Juliana Hatfield comes to her own as a writer and performer on this album, a step-off to her solo work. The trio perform flawlessly, and the album is well worth the price; epecially as I can't find it in print anywher either on vinyl or CD. Download and enjoy.

Like the cover artwork!

great album, my aunt Susan did the writing and sun drawing on the cover. Best song "Im not your mother".

Try Earwig

As a college DJ in 1989, I got hooked on Earwig like crack. Well, I wasn't a very good DJ, I guess, but I still don't get why the experts call this record the Blake Babies' masterpiece. It's Earwig, only boring. I had both records, one on either side of a cassette. I rewound through Sunburn to hear Earwig again so much I finally recorded over it -- now it has the family I spent a summer with as a grad student in Ukraine. I miss the Kochubeis, but I never missed Sunburn, and listening again on iTunes reaffirms it. Dull dull Dullsville. And John can't sing either.


Formed: 1986 in Boston, MA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s

While Blake Babies made several engaging records in the late '80s and early '90s, they never broke out of the collegiate rock circles where they were adored. It wasn't until 1992 that their leader, Juliana Hatfield, began getting recognition as a songwriter in more mainstream publications, but that was after the group was broken up. Over their four albums, Hatfield's songwriting and thin, girlish singing improved drastically as the band's post-R.E.M. alternative pop grew more muscular, branching...
Full Bio
Sunburn, Blake Babies
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