Hatfield's solo career took off like a sugared-up kid on a tricycle: first really fast and then pedaling slower and slower until reaching a comfortable pace. Her second album with the Juliana Hatfield Three (the other two members being bassist Dean Fisher and drummer Todd Phillips) 1993's Become What You Are, contained two hit singles and plastered Hatfield all over MTV and various music magazines. And then she started releasing the good albums: Only Everything, Bed (1998) and in 2000, Beautiful Creature and Total System Failure. And no one seemed to pay much attention.
Hatfield's songs have gone from girlishly simplistic to gorgeous pop, and just in case you lost track of Hatfield somewhere along the way, Gold Stars stops at every scenic point on the tour, starting with the jangly "Everybody Loves Me But You" from Hey Babe, her first solo album, and ending with four new, previously unreleased songs that are Hatfield at her absolute best.
But even though the teleology of Hatfield's career is apparent on Gold Stars, there isn't a single song that doesn't deserve a gold star, so to speak. There's the infamous "Spin the Bottle," from Become What You Are and the Reality Bites soundtrack; there's "Universal Heartbeat," arguably the best pop song of the mid-1990s, and Hatfield's French rock song, "Fleur de Lys," complete with the English translation in the liner notes, (both from Only Everything); and two songs from God's Foot, "Mountain of Love" and "Fade Away," both of which are clear indicators of how cheated we all are by the absence of that record.
Hatfield's cover of the Police's "Every Breath You Take," which can also be found on Beautiful Creature, comes just before a cover of Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," and then the record gets really serious: The new songs begin. It's always a gamble to put new songs on a best-of collection--although it doesn't say anywhere that Gold Stars is a best-of release, that's what it truly is--but here, the bet pays off nicely. Each new song is a perfect ballad, with that soundtrack-to-your-life quality that all great pop songs have. "Don't Walk Away" has a heartbreaking arpeggio hook and a synthy ringing sound that Hatfield explains in the liner notes was created "by pressing a button marked 'magic flute.'" "We Will Rise Again" was written mainly for Hatfield's musical colleagues who haven't had much recent success, but Hatfield notes "I wasn't originally going to include this song but after the World Trade Center towers came down I decided to put it on because of the hopeful message in the chorus." "Table for One" is about going to a restaurant alone, and being acutely aware of the solitude. Like all great Juliana Hatfield songs, it's a brief autobiographical glimpse into what it must be like to be Juliana Hatfield for a moment: She hits a minor key when she sings "Where is my dessert? I think I've been forgotten" and you're there with her. It's no longer a table for one.
Ten years can do a lot to a person; it can gray their hair or change their weight or heighten their sense of mortality. But 10 years have turned enough great songs out of Juliana Hatfield to fill an album that exemplifies what a best-of album should be. Cheers to 10 more years.