Review: Juliana Hatfield – Blood
National Music Reviews
American Laundromat Records
Juliana Hatfield = Olivia Newton John + Tool
It’s hard to define legends in the music business, especially those a couple rings down from the gods. Some artists arrive with a tremendous spark and scorch the earth for a handful of years before succumbing to rock-n-roll endings, death, sheer exhaustion or diminishing returns among them. The off-the-radar warriors are the ones that work the fringes, gaining new fans in town after town, on album after album and from decade to decade. Juliana Hatfield is one of those artists.
Hatfield’s 19th solo studio album, Blood, is a response to lockdown, nervous anxiety and four years of excessive political carnival. Hatfield recorded the entire album on her laptop with contributions and tech support from Jed Davis. The record is appropriately titled—every song sounds like a gouge to the skin. Tracks seem lifted from nightmares with song titles like “Splinter,” “Suck It Up,” “Dead Weight” and “Torture.” This is not your typical Juliana Hatfield record. Hatfield has leaned dark before but not like this. “I have to punch myself in the face to get myself out of bed,” Hatfield sings on “Nightmary.” “I’m living in a nightmare, and I can’t wake up / The whole world is controlled by fascists blood-sucking thugs.”
The lyrics on Blood feel like 2020, but Hatfield takes it to another level: “As you were quartered / Then I was a machine / I was a rotary blade / Coming to saw you in half / As you lay strapped down to a table on your back / Through the bone and out the other side / That was my dream last night,” she sings on “Had A Dream.” “It was a very American dream.” Yikes! Hatfield surprisingly makes this track somewhat danceable. This is far removed from her debut album, Hey Babe (1992), her band Blake Babies and her plucky sweet persona as an occasional Lemonhead contributor. It is also far removed from her recent cover albums of Olivia Newton John and The Police. Hatfield let some of her anger surface on Pussycat (2017) and Weird (2019) but not with this intensity. For the release of Blood, Hatfield goes full-on horrorshow, and all the demons come out.
The album pulses with beeps, fuzz, distortion and random video game sounds. A song can sound melodic one minute and sound like crushed cans the next. It all works with the tone of the record. Hatfield plays pretty much every instrument and once again proves she’s an underrated guitarist. She’s also an underrated songwriter. “Honey I’m the one who sang the song about wanting to vanish into thin air / Yeah I wanna go where no one knows me or my name or body and won’t claim me like property.” Hatfield sings on “Gorgon.” “I never said I was an angel / I never said I ever cared / I never promised anyone anything / No enchanted fairy tales / You must have interpreted it wrong / Because I don’t sing love songs.” This is Hatfield at her most vulnerable and honest. She’s a wound, and she invites us all in to see it.
Hatfield isn’t a guide into a Dante–esque inferno—she’s the one pushing her listeners out the other side. I appreciate that about this record; the pain is shared. Hatfield has never been conventional, and Blood is an example of just that. She’s a survivor, seeker and—no question—an icon. If you are new to the Juliana Hatfield experience, I suggest soak up Blood and work your way back. Gather up all the jewels she has scattered for the past 30 years. Hatfield can feel like a new artist, but discovering her is like discovering multitudes, like discovering a legend. –Russ Holsten