Juliana Hatfield – Blood (Album Review)

Brash Singer-Songwriter Juliana Hatfield has returned with Blood, her nineteenth solo outing, out on Friday May 14, 2021 via American Laundromat records.

Looking back at her impressive career, Hatfield first entered the public music scene in 1986 with the Blake Babies, formed with fellow Berklee College of Music classmates Freda Smith on drums and John Strohm on guitar. Three highly acclaimed albums followed, before artistic differences broke up the band in 1991. Cobbling together ideas left from a would-be fourth Babies album, Hatfield released Hey Babe, her first solo effort, in 1992. Additionally, also in 1992, she joined The Lemonheads as their bassist, playing on the album It’s a Shame About Ray. 

A second band, the Juliana Hatfield Three, was assembled for Become What You Are in 1993, before Hatfield settled on a long storied solo career under her own name. Reunion albums for each of her prior bands would follow, with God Bless the Blake Babies coming in 2001 and Whatever, My Love coming from the Three in 2015. Fast-forward to the last few years, Hatfield has been extremely active, putting out Weird in 2019, but also two cover albums; 2019’s Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police and 2018’s Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John.

Recording at home for the first time, with help from Jed Davis and James Bridges, fans and critics could have forgiven Hatfield sneaking by with a largely acoustic affair, since it is her infectious lilt is the main attraction of any work. And Blood does just that.. for about ten seconds. What follows after the brief, sparse opening piece is thirty-three minutes of lush, dense instrumentation, no moment of which takes focus from nor advantage of the voice that brings everything together. Recorded at home, in a studio, or in a trailer parked in the desert, the tracks of Blood emerge as a rich, full-bodied collection of thoroughly electric tunes.

“Suck It Up” takes a half-breath to turn self-deprecating title lyric—”I’ve gotta suck, it up”—into a motivating factor. In doing so it builds on the “I have to punch myself in the face to get myself out of bed” of its sibling “Nightmary” a few tracks earlier. A similar pause enters on “The Shame of Love.” Then “Chunks” is an example of a grungy, bass-heavy that simply moves you while also elevating the disconcerting lyrical material of pain being an inevitable experience. Furthermore, in what amounts to a title-track, “Mouthful of Blood” straddles the duality of speaking your mind and facing dire consequences, and keeping quiet only to suffer anyway.

The rambling guitar that ends “Gorgon” belies a dark tone where Hatfield essentially breaks the hearts of fans, but also shatters the expectations of critics who expect songs of laughing, light, and love. However, not every track is laced with such maudlin. If anything, the ability to write brisk, kinetic songs with lyrics that take an opposite turn has to be harder than making to the two match. But the struggle of being a female singer-songwriter expected to write empty missives about the promise and comfort of love or flowers and hearts, rather than the struggles and commonality of everyday being, must get exhausting. As such, other than the acoustic detour of the opening track, the rest of the album could appear in almost any order. That in mind, closer “Torture” is as fitting an ending as any, as the next batch of songs on a future album will pick up right where things left off.

Without reading too much into things, the cover art could be absorbed this same way: a bikini-clad diver, resplendent mid-dive into an unseen pool of water, with both hands cut off at the wrists. Perhaps we are all hampered in some way, but that should not be an excuse for not employing the rest of our faculties to their fullest. It should be noted the the remainder of the album resembles a poster for an Italian Horror movie, so the horror and gloom of life is indeed everywhere…but maybe that is the point.

With Blood Hatfield proves that she is able to forge both pain and pleasure into putting her best self forward, and by listening to the ten tracks here, perhaps listeners can as well. That is why Cryptic Rock is pleased to give her latest album 4 out of 5 stars. 

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