(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.)
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:
- “New Waif”
- “What Do I Care?”
- “Stay Awake”
- “On Video”
- “Hole in the Sky”
- “My Pet Lion”
- “Going Blonde”
- “Rats in the Attic”
- “Digital Penetration”
- “A Doe and Two Fawns”
- “Send Money”