- by Steve Ricciutti Release Date:2017-04-28 Label: American Laundromat
Juliana Hatfield is angered by the current US administration. For starters, the title of her latest album is Pussycat, which leaves little to ponder. Furthermore, there are songs called “Short Fingered Man” and “Kellyanne,” which, in the “do the math” vernacular, are one plus one. “Rhinoceros,” a song with a chugging Sabbath-sludge melody mentions his wife by name (“Her name’s Melania. She’s from Slovenia. An illegal immigrant, he paid to sneak her in”) and features the line, “Guess who’s getting fucked by the rhinoceros?” Here’s a clue - it’s not just the third Mrs. Trump, America. This is seriously righteous rock.
Considering her career on hiatus and feeling devoid of anything vital to say musically, the events of last year, particularly November, were a shot of creative force straight into the heart of this musical icon. Generating 14 songs and getting them recorded and mixed in less than two weeks (she plays all but the drums), Hatfield said she felt driven by forces beyond her control and described the process as “cathartic.” It has that same feel for the listener, too. I haven’t felt this much righteous indignation from a record since Zach de la Rocha screamed, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” a quarter century ago.
The effectiveness of such artistic declarations is debatable (despite the tidal wave of protests, St. Ronnie nonetheless served two terms, the effects of which are still felt in US politics), but they do help galvanize the masses, and that alone is vital, especially in a world where so much information comes from non-traditional sources. Moreover, I miss protests, anger, and intelligence in rock, and this album’s rage against the machine makes me happily nostalgic for the in-your-face politics that fueled much of the punk and post-punk musical output. Sure, self-righteousness is the collateral damage, but it’s worth it to know that banality and apathy won’t become the twin totems of rock music.
On the opener, “I Wannabe Your Disease,” Hatfield lets go with both barrels straight out of the gate. “I want you to listen to me. I want to make you sorry. Sorry for all of the people you’ve hurt, cheated, and lied to…and worse.” It’s blistering, with every line a body blow to that pudgy orange buffoon. Talk about a tone setter.
Approached with a healthy dose of innocence, one could easily view this as a break-up record; the personal lyrics, the pain and anger, and the barbed delivery are all hallmarks of the genre, and perhaps that’s part of the brilliance. For it’s certainly an arguable point that this is indeed all about a break-up; albeit one with what Ms. Hatfield (and the rest of us) thought was a nation that represented the majority, that stood for justice, and that took care of everyone, not just the 1%.
Furthermore, just like in a relationship gone sour, there is the inevitable soul searching and the nagging questions that need answers. On “Impossible Song,” she looks inward with, “These contentious times bring out the very worst in me. I don’t like what I’m becoming.” And then the pleading, “What if we tried to get along? Sing an impossible song. Figure it out later on,” knowing that the first step forward is drawing lines of civility. On “You’re Breaking My Heart” she cuts to the chase, “How did everything get so ugly?” These are statements indicative of how firmly Hatfield’s finger is on the heartbroken pulse of this tinderbox nation.
Navel gazing aside, break ups also give way to simmering (or boiling, in this case) resentment. The album overflows with it. In the aforementioned “Short Fingered Man,” she sneers one of the tamer lines in this hilarious takedown, “Short fingered man - can’t get her off.” In the jaunty “Kellyanne,” Hatfield sums up Trump apologist Kellyanne Conway thusly: “You’re a telegraph of vicious grace and pride, turning truth into lies.” “Heartless” is an unending litany of contemptuous questions such as “How can you lead with no ideology? How can you give with no generosity?” The lyrics should be put on a poster with Trump’s image. I’d buy it.
The closer is the grungy, raunchy number “Everything is Forgiven,” in which her disgust and frustration reach critical mass in one final, epic, defiant stand: “God will forgive me for my anger and hatred and bloody, vengeful violence. God, forgive me please for all the things I’m gonna do to him. Cause I’m not gonna die a victim.” Can I get an amen?
It’s critical to note that this album is not just fourteen reliably engaging Juliana Hatfield alterna-pop numbers, which seems a shame to scarcely mention because they’re quite good regardless of the lyrical content. But, it’s the message that makes this album more than merely an entertaining listen. Her eviscerating lyrics (she even lets loose on creepy Bill Cosby) elevate Pussycat to a level of formidable and profound importance for a nation that has lost its way and is wandering in the dark; suffocating irony in the age of Google maps and Uber.
Thankfully, there is a growing resurgence in America of citizens who are finally pushing back against the selfishly rich and cynically powerful, and they’ve created a hopeful movement that is effecting real change. If this force needs a soundtrack, Juliana Hatfield has just delivered one.