by Keegan King
In the late 80’s, Juliana Hatfield exploded onto the scene with Freda Love (then Freda Boner) and John Strohm to create the college rock band (supposedly named by Allen Fucking Ginsberg) Blake Babies, and started a pretty storied career spanning the last 30 odd years. From The Lemonheads to Some Girls to forming the more recent band The I Don’t Cares, Juliana has been rocking off faces for the better part of 30 years.
She’s also made some strides into the world of acting as a lunch lady in the show Pete & Pete and made the obvious jump to playing an angel in the Christmas episode of My So Called Life.
Basically, for lack of a better phrase, Juliana has been killing the shit out of our early 90’s hearts.
Juliana Hatfield means to salt the fucking earth with this album, and I’ll be damned if I’m not super excited to go along for the ride…
… and thats what makes the next several paragraphs so hart to write.
You know that feeling where everyone – with an education and the ability to process the world above a 3rd grad level- hates Donald Trump? Turns out Juliana Hatfield does, and she is officially on the soundtrack of this feeling. This album is intense… Its a brutal tear down of the current president as well as an unsubtle battlecry to the left-side of the fence.
What I really loved about this album, is that Juliana Hatfield spent time not only on attacking the President, but she also finds a way to show her disappointment in those that are desperately trying to support him. Most specifically in “Good Enough for Me” she paints a wonderfully depressed and unenthused portrait of the average Trump supporter. If I didn’t have such a vehement dislike for them I’d almost pity them…maybe.
Some other special mentions go to “When You’re A Star”, “Short Fingered Man” and “Rhinoceros”. Pussycat has some brutal moments on it, but none so intense as these three pieces. Juliana Hatfield uses sexual assault as a spring board to send and extremely uncomfortable message to hear as a cisgendered male. Its feels a little like seeing a friend’s Tinder message box if she presents as female and has the audacity to say hi to someone. The target of these songs -Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Famous Male Celebrities, etc.- look to trigger some very unfortunate personal experiences in her life, and Pussycat gives her the platform to work out these memories. Though I could be reading too much in to it.
However, the album really shines with “I Wanna Be Your Disease” and “Everything Is Forgiven” bookending the whole package. The former being a mission statement that simply says: I want to be the gunk in your lungs that makes it hard to breathe… I want you to think of me when your lungs crackle.
The latter carries that subtle, terrifying message by ending the song and the album with a simple phrase: I’m not gonna die a victim. Gets me every time.
There is a part of me that wonders if Juliana Hatfield writes this stuff so effortlessly because she came up in the Reagan Era and survived the Bush (First Blood and/or Electric Boogaloo) Eras in the trenches with us. Its almost as if she had some of this stuff already laying around in notebooks and she was finally able to use the songs at this point in her career.
I really didn’t want to write this section, but in the interest of fairness I decided it needed to be done.
This album does not do anything unforgivable, at least not directly, but it does make the cardinal sin of being musically boring. Most of the tracks have the same three chords, heavy use of a fuzz pedal, and Juliana Hatfield’s too-cool-to-be-here singing style. Being forever the saddest kids is pretty cool when you’re in your late teens and you cant get into bars yet, but at a certain point you end up being “that person” at the shows… wearing a tee-shirt from Jawbreaker’s first break-up tour, and standing with you arms crossed watching the band with equal parts boredom and contempt (YOU should be up there goddamnit!).
I guess what Im trying to relay, is that Juliana may be the person that started the shoe-gazing/depressive/pixie dream-girl trope and while it may not be and act, it comes off as tired. Riot Grrl without the “riot” comes off as bitter rather than powerful. While the lyrics paint a different picture by being so intense, its hard not to notice.
I reached a point with this album where I was getting burned out on the imagery as well. Making an intense parallel once is scathing, twice is pushy, and three times is formuleic (Four times, for those of you playing the home game, is proof you don’t have anything else to say). Which is a real shame because her message is important and something that needs a bigger, brighter light on it.
On top of the musicality being fairly basic, the lyrics are not really that Earth shattering. They are powerful in their simplicity, but they lack any real subtlety. Which is something I tend to expect from younger bands, but when I see it in performers who have been at this for a while, its a little disappointing.
While my critiques are honest ones, ultimately they did not prevent me from finishing the album. As I stated, nothing is unforgivable, and Im almost willing to give the whole “bad” section a solid pass, however I want to be firm with this album.
I feel like older musicians get to phone things in more often than younger ones because of the perceived pedigree that they have by virtue of being virtuosos. And honestly? Not a fan of that.
The album is good and you should give it a listen, but do not expect this album to be without its faults. While I believe most Indie music fans have much higher tolerances for boredom, pedigree, and simplicity; I also want to believe that we deserve better from musicians that have proven they can be better. In particular, we deserve this when you are writing our battle hymns… otherwise you run the risk of becoming the sonic equivalent of “thoughts and prayers”.
4/10 – I am glad I heard it, but it could do better and I do not really have the desire to go back to this one.