Juliana Hatfield: Pussycat – The Review

Most fans likely already know the backstory about this, Juliana Hatfield’s umpteenth album: the Chump election left her, like many of us, bewildered, dismayed and angry. But while some folks took their outrage to the streets, or Facebook, she took hers to the recording studio.

To quote from the press release:

“All of these songs just started pouring out of me. And I felt an urgency to record them, to get them down, and get them out there.” She booked some time at Q Division studios in Somerville, Massachusetts near her home in Cambridge and went in with a drummer (Pete Caldes), an engineer (Pat DiCenso) and fourteen brand-new songs. Hatfield produced and played every instrument other than drums—bass, keyboards, guitars, vocals. From start to finish—recording through mixing—the whole thing took a total of just twelve and a half days to complete.

The result reminds me of Neil Young’s 2006 Living With War, which (for those unaware) was an album-long protest against President George W. Bush and his nonsensical Iraq War. It made a pointed statement, made it well, divided fans (some supported Bush), and faded from public consciousness by the time the presidential primary season kicked into gear a year-and-change later. Its shelf life was relatively short, in other words, due to the directness of many of the lyrics. (That said, “Flags of Freedom” and “Families” sound as fresh to my ears as ever.)

I could go on and on (and on) with my thoughts about Pussycat, but instead I’ll say that I haven’t wavered from the sentiment I shared in my review of Juliana’s Philly concert: It’s  excellent. Fans (new and old) who share her outlook on politics and life will thoroughly enjoy it, though some may be put off by the blunt imagery in some songs. It’s a claws-out affair that draws blood and trades, at times, in the profane (as this Paste Magazine review details). There’s an energy and drive to the performances that’s as palpable as the passion dripping from her vocals; and the lyrics, with a few exceptions, are soaked with anger, indignation and bitterness.

I don’t think many of the songs will age well, but that’s beside the point. They’re about today, this moment, and processing the un-processable. (Is that even a word?) They fill the need for catharsis now.

My favorite song, as I also mentioned in that concert review, isn’t one of the political numbers, but “Wonder Why.” In an interview with Consequence of Sound, she talks about how she sometimes seeks refuge in the memories of her youth. While that escape may be partially fueled by the tumultuous times we find ourselves in, it’s also something that comes with growing old(er). It’s normal to look back.

For those interested in checking out the album as a whole:

To buy it on CD, vinyl or cassette: head over to the American Laundromat page.

And, finally, head over to Paste Magazine to see Juliana’s acoustic takes on two of the new songs, plus one from her Minor Alps project, and taking a few questions.

Grrrl Rock: The Juliana Hatfield Three at the Boot & Saddle in Philly, 4/24/2017

The Juliana Hatfield Three delivered a loud, sweaty and raucous show at the Boot & Saddle in South Philly last night. In fact, you could say it was a night of true grrrl rock (it is the Pussycat tour, after all). The 20-song set opened with a ferocious “Got No Idols” from Become What You Are. As evidenced by the video, Todd Phillips was a monster on drums, Dean Fisher equally brutal on bass and Juliana – well, Juliana was Juliana, full of grace, grit and growls on guitar and vocals.

Diane thought she was a bit in her head at the evening’s start, but I thought she was hitting all cylinders from the get-go. The only negative, which was likely due to our location at the foot of the stage: the vocals were muffled.

In all, the set (which, another fan told me, has been changing every night) featured seven numbers from the new LP, which is due out this Friday, and selections from throughout her career, including “My Sister.”

Here’s the set in full:

Got No Idols
Taxicab
You Are the Camera
Push Pin
Vagabond
Short-Fingered Man
Touch You Again
Wonder Why
When You’re a Star
What Do I Care?
My Pet Lion
Going Blonde
Kellyanne
There’s Always Another Girl
Bad Moon Rising
My Sister
Rhinoceros
Nirvana
Choose Drugs
Impossible Song

Afterwards, while packing up her stuff, Juliana was kind enough to pose for pictures with some fans, including me. She thanked me for my support but, really, she had it backwards – her music has supported me through the decades. I’m grateful to have been able to thank her for that in person.

Of the Pussycat album: Although not due out until Friday, our copy (actually, copies – CD, LP and cassette) arrived yesterday afternoon, so we listened to it on the way to the show. At first blush, it’s excellent through and through; I’ll be reviewing it in full this weekend, so be sure to check back. (If you haven’t already, order it from American Laundromat. You won’t regret it. Which I guess is a review and of itself.) Anyway, the new songs were leaner, rougher and blunter in the live setting; and the claws were definitely out on both “Short-Fingered Man” and “Kellyanne.” (The latter made for a perfect thematic fit with Made in China‘s “Going Blonde,” which preceded it in the set.) My favorite track, so far, is “Wonder Why” –

– though “Short-Fingered Man” remains a venomously funny delight. I’d post the clip I recorded, but the sound is even more muffled than on the ones I shared above; and rather to not give it the justice it deserves… here’s Juliana’s video:

The Essentials: Juliana Hatfield’s Made in China

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once in their life.)

It’s raw and ragged, and best played loud: That, in a nutshell, describes Made in China, Juliana Hatfield’s 2005 followup to the previous year’s in exile deo.

As the picture to the left shows, the album cover is of Juliana’s naval; but the music inside is far from naval-gazing. Instead, the 37 minutes reflect the ugly truths about life and the music biz that Juliana had learned up until this point. Pitchfork, I should mention, hated it. AllMusic, on the other hand, gave it four-and-a-half stars. That, too, says something about the album. Different ears hear the music in different ways. And it’s not just critics. I love it, but Diane… let’s just say it’s not the first Juliana album she’d put on.

As I wrote in Bed, Unmade, I rank it with Juliana’s best – in fact, it was my Album of the Year for 2005. I hear it as her primal-scream moment, a reaction to the music scene writ large circa the mid-2000s. The early ‘90s, for those old enough to remember them, saw a wave of women alternative rockers (both riot grrrl and more mainstream) splash upon the shore of public consciousness. I’m talking Bikini Kill, the Breeders, Belly, Juliana, Liz Phair, Veruca Salt and dozens more. The music, for the most part, was front and center. A decade later, however, that era seemed to have been little more than a fad. As Juliana noted on her website at the time of Made in China’s release:

The most talented girl singers have turned themselves into strippers. A notch above porn stars. ‘Cause sex sells. The next step would be for them to actually have sex in their videos. Mariah Carey has implants. Christina Aguilera has implants. Gwen Stefani has implants. Even her. She finally gave in. And Beyoncé is on her hands and knees evoking doggy-style sex in one of her videos. And she has so much (singing) talent! Why, Beyoncé, why? Why, world, why? Why do you demand this of her?

The album, as a result, is littered with lyrics that call out the manufactured vs. the real, and the trajectory of her own career. Witness “What Do I Care?”

At times, too, I hear echoes of ‘90s-era Neil Young and Crazy Horse, most notably on “Rats in the Attic,” which possesses thud-thick chords that reverberate for hours on end despite the song being all of three minutes and 14 seconds on CD. It also delves into a subject that Neil would likely approve of: the corrosive poisons that exist in and around us.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many of its tracks on YouTube. But here’s one: “Oh.”

And here’s another: “On Video.”

And here’s “A Doe and Two Fawns.”

And, finally, another live version of one of its songs, “Stay Awake,” from late 2004:

The songs:

  1. “New Waif”
  2. “What Do I Care?”
  3. “Stay Awake”
  4. “On Video”
  5. “Hole in the Sky”
  6. “Oh”
  7. “My Pet Lion”
  8. “Going Blonde”
  9. “Rats in the Attic”
  10. “Digital Penetration”
  11. “A Doe and Two Fawns”
  12. “Send Money”