Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Juliana Hatfield's naked torso

Juliana Hatfield Made in China
Essential: Juliana Hatfield


How do I get your attention? Implants? Do I have to take my clothes off to be heard? Well, I put a chunk of my naked flesh on the cover of my album. It's the viscera where my art comes from. But you don't know that. You'll just see a sexy chopped-off torso. No pesky head, or legs to run away on. Can I be popular now, again? What if I don't want to be popular? What if I didn't like it? Being popular has never been cool.
- Juliana Hatfield, in a diatribe to fans on her site
Juliana's new album, Made In China, is much like the cover - naked. Juliana's writing is more raw and haphazard on the production (perhaps a reaction to the well-written but over produced In Exile Deo: "...my last album was a fairly clean, tailored, buttoned-up, adult affair, influenced somewhat by the record company who wanted a product they could sell.")
People can buy this record or not. I don't care. Or at least I can pretend not to care. But I do care. My official position is: I don't care.
For being so raw and quickly recorded, it feels a bit flat at times, but there are plenty of highlights. "What Do I Care" is obviously the center piece of the record ("Made in China / for the masses / I'm cheap and plastic, there's million of us, yeah",) and the bending over-saturated guitars just jump off the album. Her anger and frustration is obvious and comes across well, like her open letter on her site. Others tracks that touch on that magic include "New Waif" (sounds like it's blowing a kiss to Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane") and "Going Blonde," which looks at how society's forced women artists into compromising positions:
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's definitely worth your time, especially if your already a fan. If her open letter is any indication, the optimistic angst of her younger days has turned, and it makes for a nice sound... maybe we'll hear it in a Target commercial:
Integrity is so old-fashioned, like flower power. And the ones who proclaim most loudly and vehemently that they have it are the ones who are the most corrupt. Like those child-molesting Catholic priests. It's impossible to sellout these days. 'Selling out' is an antiquated concept. Everyone is licensing their songs to car commercials. That didn't used to be okay. Bob Dylan is in a Victoria's Secret ad.
Hatfield was raised upper-middle class in Massachusetts (her father a doctor, mother fashion editor for Boston Globe.) She attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston where she met guitarist John Strohm and drummer Freda Boner and they formed the group the Blake Babies in 1986. The Blake Babies were college radio favorites, with Hatfield a sort of poster girl for indie pop rock (that poster was on my wall, at least.) Hatfield mastered the ultimate kiss-offs, like in "I'm Not Your Mother" ("You're a weakling / You're a suckling lamb / You're not so tough / You're just like a woman.") But after only three albums (Nicely, Nicely, 1987; Earwig, 1989; Sunburn, 1990;) Hatfield left to go solo.

Her solo debut, Hey Babe (1992,) turned out to be a critical success, with her waifish voice juxtaposed to a gritty guitar-based sound. Nirvana was an influence (the song "Nirvana" is homage to hearing Bleach on her headphones the first time,) and The Blake Babies were almost instantly forgotten. Meanwhile, she also played bass and sang some on the Evan Dando-led Lemonheads release It's a Shame About Ray (she appeared on several Lemonheads albums,) which was a bubblegum-grunge commercial breakthrough. This led to greater interest in Hey Babe and her singles "Everybody Loves Me But You" and "Forever Baby." Juliana then formed the band The Juliana Hatfield 3, and released Become What You Are (1993,) which was a small step back musically and a huge step forward commercially. She did photo layouts in magazines, interviews, and raised more then a few eyebrows with the 'I'm still a virgin' stuff at age 25. "Spin the Bottle" made it in Reality Bites and she did a video with Ethan Hawke to promote the movie/song/soundtrack. "My Sister" also was a hit, and the album was an indie-label success. Her next album, Only Everything (1995,) saw her moving up to Atlantic and it only yielded interest in "Universal Heart-Beat," but not much else. Juliana then wrote what she still considers her great album, God's Foot, which was shelved by Atlantic (and still lies there collecting dust.) The next couple releases seemed centered around this major label struggle with songs like "Sellout" (Please Do Not Disturb, 1997) and "Down on Me" (Bed, 1998.) Then, in 2000, she released two albums simultaneously, the loud and curious Total System Failure, and the plaintive Hey Babe-ish Beautiful Creature, which signaled, perhaps, a comeback to the Juliana we'd all come to know and love with the Blake Babies and Hey Babe.

Speaking of the Blake Babies, interest in the band again brought John Strohm and Freda Love Smith (nee Boner) back together for another go around with a tour and the album God Bless the Blake Babies (2001,) where Hatfield brought us another kiss-off: "What I wouldn't do: go back to '92 and erase the moment I met you and make you disappear," from "Disappear.") Then Hatfield and Love Smith stuck around to record another album together with bassist Heidi Gluck of the Pieces under a moniker as homage to the Stones (Some Girls Feel It, 2003.)

Hatfield returned to her solo career after 4 years with the album In Exile Deo (2004,) which was a more mature, strident and focused effort. Many believed it to be her best since Hey Babe, but Hatfield felt compromised by the production, which is partly why the new album (Made in China) is on her own label (Ye Olde.)

Previous Essential:
Essential: Madlib
Essential: Joe Pernice
Essential: Lifter Puller

Essential: In theory, Essentials are the best by an artist/group with the sum total of the tracks fitting neatly on an 80-minute CD. Ideally, artists that have multiple projects.

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1 comment:

drake leLane said...

Since there's no Hey Babe in Rhapsody, I'm annotating this mix:

Essential: Juliana Hatfield

* "Wipe It Up" - Blake Babies
* "Cesspool" - Blake Babies
* "Take Your Head Off My Shoulder" - Blake Babies
* "I'm Not Your Mother" - Blake Babies
* "Out There" - Blake Babies
* "Temptation Eyes" - Blake Babies
* "Everybody Loves Me But You" - Juliana Hatfield
("Forever Babe" - from Hey Babe, not in Rhapsody)
("Nirvana" - from Hey Babe, not in Rhapsody)
("I See You" - from Hey Babe, not in Rhapsody)
* "My Sister" - Juliana Hatfield
* "Spin The Bottle" - Juliana Hatfield
* "Universal Heartbeat" - Juliana Hatfield
* "Sellout" - Juliana Hatfield
* "Down On Me" - Juliana Hatfield
* "Live It Up" - Juliana Hatfield (a substitute for tracks not in Rhapsody)
* "Cool Rock Boy" - Juliana Hatfield
* "Cry In The Dark" - Juliana Hatfield (a substitute for tracks not in Rhapsody)
* "Disappear" - Blake Babies
* "The Prettiest Girl" - Some Girls (Indie Rock)
* "Get In Line" - Juliana Hatfield
* "Forever" - Juliana Hatfield (a substitute for tracks not in Rhapsody)
* "What Do I Care" - Juliana Hatfield