A Review of Juliana Hatfield’s “Peace & Love,” and an Interview with the Artist Herself
You know it when you hear it. Juliana Hatfield’s high-pitched voice is unique. Most critics have described it as “sweet,” or “innocent,” but some have called it “frail” and “thin.” One journalist even remarked that her voice “gives hope to everyone trying to sing.” Even though her voice has matured over the years, it still doesn’t diminish the fact that no one else sounds like her, which is a rarity in music, pop and rock music especially.
So it’s hard to believe, but also understandable, that she’s confessed in the past to hating her voice. Nevertheless it’s a voice that has given her one of the most solidly consistent careers in rock music. She’s learned to love it and use it to her advantage.
Peace & Love is Juliana Hatfield’s 10th full-length studio album and her follow-up to 2008’s How to Walk Away. Peace & Love is reminiscent of her critically acclaimed 2000 album, Beautiful Creature; both are mellow, introspective yet outwardly observant, and heavy on acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies.
P&L is entirely acoustic, however. Staccato strumming, wisps of guitar and piano solos, and her first ever instrumental track fill out the album. The sonic ambience is homegrown and relaxed. Hatfield’s longtime themes of love, loss and struggle are ever present, as is her ability to capture and balance light and dark musically, vocally and lyrically all at once. It’s a hallmark style of hers and one of her strengths as an artist.
Though Hatfield has been called a “confessional” songwriter, she points out that her lyrics are more personal on an emotional level than any real-life experience listeners might attribute to them. P&L does sound more intimate (the song “Evan” comes to mind), but perhaps it seems so because this album is not as production-heavy as others. It could also be due to her writing, producing, recording, mixing and mastering everything herself this time around.
Hatfield wrote track-by-track descriptions for P&L, the downside being that the songs are less interpretive for listeners; but because her songs have a history of misinterpretation, she’s had to set the record straight. Over the last year or so she’s also blogged in depth on her MySpace page about songs from prior albums.
Fortunately her notes for P&L are not as detailed and her blog has since been taken down, but one might wonder why she’s decided to explain so much. Maybe it was necessary for her to have more control over her songs’ meanings, or maybe it’s social networking’s effect that creates the obsessive desire to document our lives by the minute. As an artist who runs her own label (Ye Olde Records), maybe she can afford to be more forthcoming with audiences – it’s a just a part of the “DIY” movement.
A more accurate guess could be that Hatfield is more a writer than anything else. She has always written songs incorporating stories, humor and ironic wordplay with the kind of emotional depth and description akin to novels. She’s a fervent diarist; in fact, her recent memoir When I Grow Up is an expansion of a tour journal she kept a few years ago.
Hatfield is often described as a big talent who fell too soon from the cusp of fame and never regained footing, but that description is inaccurate. It’s basically the music press’s version of a Hollywood cliché. In truth, she continues to be reviewed and interviewed by the mainstream and alternative music presses with each album she puts out (she most recently was guest editor of Magnet Magazine online). As further proof, she has no plans to tour for Peace & Love. Not many artists can afford to take that kind of risk. It’s testament to her discipline, fortitude and mastery that she can.
USD Radio interviewed Juliana Hatfield on February 3, 2010.
“What Is Wrong”