I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win the 2016 election, and I didn’t expect Juliana Hatfield, one of my all-time favorite musicians, to release an intensely politically-fueled album, just as Trump neared the end of his first 100 days in office. While Hatfield’s songs have always been deeply introspective and pretty provocative–she’s never been one to shy away from uncomfortable topics such as gender oppression, body image, and drug abuse, just to name a few–and while she’s also no stranger to railing against the establishment in general, I was still surprised that she decided to go full-throttle anti-Trump on this latest collection of 14 songs, her first proper solo album in six years.
I got my first taste of these songs when she performed a few of them for the first time at the benefit concert, “Boston Stands for the ACLU” in March. My ears immediately perked up as she lit into her scathing attacks on the president for his animalistic, sexually assaultive ways in “When You’re A Star,” whose chorus, “You can do what you want/Whatever you want to do, when you’re a star,” references the infamous Billy Bush tapes. She also debuted another of the album’s standout tracks that night, “Touch You Again,” a straight up, post-punk-style rocker in the vein of early Pretenders that fires off lines like “He’s never gonna show you off/Like a shiny object that he bought,” that seem to be aimed directly at a certain real estate mogul/reality show host turned president. And then, of course, there was the highly anticipated track I had recently read about, whose name says it all, “Kellyanne.” It beautifully captures the shock, disgust and dismay this alternative fact-slinging woman seems to have on Hatfield, along with many other like-minded and truth-seeking Americans.
Almost every one of the 14 tracks on the aptly named “Pussycat” appears to be a direct response to Trump’s divisive, controversial campaign and his unexpected rise to power. But among all the rage, revolt, and confusion that colors her lyrics, Hatfield offers listeners a couple of hopeful moments and a nostalgic look back at simpler times. “Impossible Song” tackles the seemingly impossible notion that an especially divided America can work to find at least some common ground, and “Sunny Somewhere” yearns for bright spots and a breath of fresh air in the murky political and environmental landscape we’re living in. The sweetly nostalgic “Wonder Why,” which appears shortly after the halfway point in the album, is its most palpable and enjoyable moment of reprieve from all the lyrical heaviness. It showcases Hatfield’s full vocal range, soaring harmonic choruses and synthesized strings, and it finds her wistfully looking back upon various features of her childhood home (“I wonder why the kitchen was an avocado green/And the upstairs bathroom was peach) and fond childhood memories (“The Northern Lights/We saw them in Vermont one night from a car”). In a world that seems to bombard us with the latest flare up in the raging dumpster-fire that is the Trump presidency, it can feel truly therapeutic to retreat to the naive, wondrous, and largely apolitical mindset of childhood. So thanks for this moment of escapism, Juliana. And thanks for putting this brave body of work out there into a world that needs this kind of art more than ever.