Pussycat was released on April 28, 2017, available in various physical formats at American Laundromat Records and digitally at Bandcamp, iTunes and elsewhere. The vinyl version was also available from UK distributor Cargo Records.
The promotional text for Pussycat's release suggests that by the end of 2016 Juliana was unsure of her songwriting future - to the extent that she considered that part of her career as "on hiatus." Her recent output tended to support that - 2015's Whatever, My Love record as The Juliana Hatfield Three was almost entirely old songs reworked, 2016's The I Don't Cares album was mainly Paul Westerberg songs with Juliana as muse, and while there's talk of new Blake Babies songs to come, she wouldn't be the only writer in such a project.
That Pussycat exists is however no surprise to those of us following Juliana's Twitter account towards the end of 2016. There were frequent tweets - almost entirely focused on the Republican candidate - in the weeks leading up to the election.
Juliana's disbelief, anger and fear of what seemed to be happening and what ultimately unfolded was clear. (For me and I suspect many other Brits the familiarity to emotions experienced in our EU referendum six months earlier was unavoidable. A different set of circumstances but a shared feeling of unprecedented horror.)
A month prior to the election and in the aftermath of what she described as the Trump "pussy grab" tapes, Juliana wrote for Talkhouse where she articulated her fears and how events brought back memories of men abusing positions of power and privilege.
It seemed inevitable that Juliana needed more than Twitter to act as an outlet for her feelings and in January 2017 she posted photos from a recording studio on Instagram:
“All of these songs just started pouring out of me. And I felt an urgency to record them, to get them down, and get them out there."
As recounted to Cleveland Scene:
"Some of the music I had lying around, the bits and pieces of chord progressions. When I had these lyrical ideas and when I started to feel like I needed to express these feelings, I went looking for the music and put the songs together very quickly."
Pussycat isn't framed as an anti-Trump record but the fallout of the 2016 US Presidential election is all over this album. There are lyrics and song titles unambiguous in reference to the 45th President.
I Wanna Be Your Disease opens the LP with calls for accountability, a desire to see that the actions of poisonous evil are answerable:
I want to be your disease
a catalyst for reckoning
with all of the harm you have done to the earth
and all of your vile and hateful words
The song hits a high key as Juliana reaches the lines:
I want you to listen to me
I want to make you sorry
This sets the tone for Pussycat. Juliana has plenty to say. In every sense her voice will be heard.
In recent years, Juliana has explored more use of keyboards to harmonize and add melody. This continues on the album, no better than on You're Breaking My Heart which furthers the profound sadness at how society appears to have changed for the worse:
i slept so well
down my quiet street
knowing we all cared about the same things
The anger in Pussycat kicks in further with the dirty blues sound of When You're A Star which recounts the aforementioned "pussy grab" tapes and ties it in with the Bill Cosby case.
when you’re a star they let you
do what you want
whatever the fuck you want to do
when you’re a star they let you
do what you want
buy the silence of your many tragic victims
do what you want
you’re protected by your sycophants and henchmen
Good Enough For Me has Juliana in self-deprecating mood although it seems a bit abstract and maybe at odds with overall direct themes of Pussycat. Cracker of a tune, mind.
It's obvious who Short-fingered Man is aimed at:
can’t get her off
best give it up
You can dance to it too:
The fast-paced Touch You Again has Juliana reaching for the high notes in a vocal performance reminiscent of her Blake Babies days. There's yeah yeah yeahs in it, which is never a bad thing. It's empowered. It's gorgeous.
Sex Machine talks of building a "sex machine to satisfy every single need - any time of day or night - you can turn it on an have a good time". As Juliana realises the liberty such a device would bring "finally I'll be free - left alone to sleep in peace..." the song explodes with maxed out multi-layered harmonic vocals, and some of the crunchiest guitar noises we've heard from a JH record in a long time. Juliana's fans are going to go nuts for this.
Wonder Why sees Juliana describe memories from her youth. As she told Consequence of Sound "It’s escapism and lately escapism is more important to me than ever. In my mind I go back there to my childhood and it comforts me."
Sunny Somewhere is driven by a pulsing bass as Juliana looks for an escape from her environment. In the darkness, hope remains.
Kellyanne addresses thoughts towards the Republican campaign manager turned "Counselor to the President." It's pretty much this tweet in musical form:
Heartless observes the erosion of empathy and increasing absence of humanity. Juliana may have one person in mind with this song, but the theme is global:
how can you care if you have no empathy
how can you judge if you have no authority
how can you tell the truth without honesty
and how can you apologize if you’re not sorry
how can you see if you’re not looking
how can you hear if you’re not listening
how can you preach without believing
and how can you teach if you haven’t learned anything
you’re so heartless
There's hooks, drum fills, a guitar solo, more use of keyboards, and a casual yet somehow urgent and compelling vocal. What a track.
Rhinoceros has a 70s glam rock feel to suit the brutal lyrics and the most instantly catchy chorus on the album. Fair warning - you might find that you're singing to along with "give it up for the rhinoceros. guess who’s getting fucked by the rhinoceros". The song references Melania from Slovenia but the callback of "America" tells us the whole country is getting fucked over.
Everything Is Forgotten is a particularly dark way to end the album and perhaps suitably so. Anger spawns anger. A thirst for revenge, for justice is inevitable in these times. There's luscious guitar noise and then, ultimately, defiance:
i'm not going to die a victim
Pussycat is magnificent.
It's full of lines you'll find yourself singing along with and for days afterwards. There are killer melodies, memorable riffs, exceptional keyboard harmonics, all helping to make some of the most inspired musicianship we've heard from a Juliana record in years. She hasn't sounded quite as energised as this for some time either.
This is all the more remarkable given that drums (Pete Caldes) and engineering (Pat DiCenso) aside (and not to diminish DiCenso's role here in particular), this is a truly solo record. Juliana wrote everything here and plays everything else. Repeat listens reveal more layers. It is an extraordinary work of intense, passionate, and accomplished art.
To this listener, it's a career highlight and the most exciting music Juliana has made since 2008's exceptional How To Walk Away.
Pussycat is also Juliana at her most political since 2005's Made In China. Whereas that album saw her defiant and ultimately empowered, Pussycat is an outlet for anger. Introspection gives way to a more outward looking theme. It's less "what the fuck is going on with me?" and more "what the fuck is wrong with other people?”
There's comfort in the power of music but the subject matter is unavoidably bleak. With this in mind I've deliberately omitted the 2nd song from this review until now, because Impossible Song is the most hopeful track on Pussycat. There's a sense of futility but hope isn't distinguished:
what if we tried to get along
sing an impossible song
figure it out later on
what if we tried to get along
just for a four-minute song
it’ll be all right
if we harmonize
on this line
what if we tried to get along
na na na na na na na
In 2010, Juliana declared that she wouldn't "give up on Peace and Love."
Steve Ricciutti, Soundblab:
Generating 14 songs and getting them recorded and mixed in less than two weeks (she plays all but the drums), Hatfield said she felt driven by forces beyond her control and described the process as “cathartic.” It has that same feel for the listener, too. I haven’t felt this much righteous indignation from a record since Zach de la Rocha screamed, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” a quarter century ago.
Jon Putnam, The Line Of Best Fit (9/10):
What makes Pussycat an unqualified success is how Hatfield has constructed it with multiple dimensions and, no matter the mood or approach a given song takes, she continually scores with material among the finest of her career. The ruminative “You’re Breaking My Heart” and “Sunny Somewhere” bleed sublimity, highlighted by Hatfield’s lean guitar work. Never outing Trump by name, “Short-Fingered Man” and “Rhinoceros” tissue-thin veils are shredded through by Hatfield’s crudest lyrical jabs and ballsiest riffs to date. The one direct salvo is launched at Stepford Wife-cum-senior presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway, her namesake tune featuring Hatfield’s deliciously intimated desire to “be the first one to make [her] cry” and a downright danceable coda.
aLfie vera mella, Cryptic Rock (4/5):
If songs are the ultimate basis of an artist’s ability to balance youthfulness and maturity, then Pussycat finds Hatfield well in the middle of this equilibrium.
Brandi Smith, Riff Magazine:
Unlikely to be a favorite for Trump supporters, Pussycat is full of clever and biting lyrics that will give longtime Hatfield fans a reason to smirk.
Craig Dorfman, Paste (7.2/10):
Playing all instruments but drums, Hatfield completed Pussycat in under two weeks. That urgency comes through, to the album’s benefit. The immediacy of the melodies—simpler and scrappier than she’s written in years—paired with the snarl of the arrangements, gives Pussycat a rumbling, cathartic honesty ideal for the anger of our times.
Ashlyn Nicole, mxdwn:
The fast guitars and drums are not quite punk, but Hatfield’s political stance surely is. What initially is only conveyed through a couple of the song titles, such as “Kellyanne” and “Short-Fingered Man,” a closer look into the lyrics reveals that pretty much every song on Pussycat is political. Apparently Hatfield was pissed, and that fact is obvious throughout the entire album, even while masked with a soft, monotone and placid voice. The instrumentals complement the lyrics almost perfectly, while still walking on the tightrope of acceptable pop music. Hatfield’s album speaks out without being mundane, whilst hurling obscenities, which help to accentuate the mere point she tries to get across: politics are important and the current administration sucks.
Jeff Gemmill, The Old Grey Cat:
I could go on and on (and on) with my thoughts about Pussycat, but instead I’ll say that I haven’t wavered from the sentiment I shared in my review of Juliana’s Philly concert: It’s excellent. Fans (new and old) who share her outlook on politics and life will thoroughly enjoy it, though some may be put off by the blunt imagery in some songs. It’s a claws-out affair that draws blood and trades, at times, in the profane (as this Paste Magazine review details). There’s an energy and drive to the performances that’s as palpable as the passion dripping from her vocals; and the lyrics, with a few exceptions, are soaked with anger, indignation and bitterness.
Evan Rytlewski, Pitchfork (6.8/10):
Pussycat lends to the case for a critical reappraisal. Now would be an ideal time for one, given how the DNA of Hatfield’s hooky, plainspoken alterna-pop has carried through some of indie-rock’s sharpest young songwriters, from Waxahatchee to Bully to Laura Stevenson and Charly Bliss—artists that have demonstrated there’s plenty of substance in this sound. What a treat it would be if, 30 years into their careers, they were all making records as relevant, passionate, and strangely personable as this one.
Adrian Glover, Salute Magazine (8/10):
Aggressive in spirit, but catchy enough to entrap, Pussycat is uncomfortable reflection on where we are today. These are indeed comfortable days that we wake up to. As such, expect plenty more records to come down the pipeline that showcase individual perspectives on why things feel the way that they do. Hopefully, each and every one of them will be as raw and honest as Pussycat is.
Ben Gallivan, Stereoboard (4/5):
...the end product is one of Hatfield’s highlights as a solo artist. Heartless and Touch You Again are as energetic as any of the music produced by Blake Babies well over 25 years ago and there’s a renewed assurance in both her vocal style and delivery throughout. With a snap general election being announced in the UK, it’ll be interesting to see if any British artists follow this example and even more interesting to see if they can pull it off as well as Hatfield has done with ‘Pussycat’.
Poster design by Daykamp Creative.
The lion image on the back cover has something in common with album's front cover.
“I wasn’t planning on making a record,” says Juliana Hatfield, of her new “Pussycat” album. In fact, she thought her songwriting career was on hiatus, and that she had nothing left to say in song form; that she had finally said it all after two decades as a recording artist.
But then the presidential election happened. “All of these songs just started pouring out of me. And I felt an urgency to record them, to get them down, and get them out there.” She booked some time at Q Division studios in Somerville, Massachusetts near her home in Cambridge and went in with a drummer (Pete Caldes), an engineer (Pat DiCenso) and fourteen brand-new songs. Hatfield produced and played every instrument other than drums—bass, keyboards, guitars, vocals. From start to finish—recording through mixing—the whole thing took a total of just twelve and a half days to complete.
“It was a blur. It was cathartic,” says Hatfield. “I almost don’t even understand what happened in there, or how it came together so smoothly, so quickly. I was there, directing it all, managing it, getting it all done, but I was being swept along by some force that was driving me. The songs had a will, they forced themselves on me, or out of me, and I did what they told me to do. Even my hands—it felt like they were not my hands. I played bass differently-- looser, more confident, better.”
“Pussycat” comes on the heels of last year’s Hatfield collaboration with Paul Westerberg, the I Don’t Cares’ “Wild Stab” album, and before that, 2015’s Juliana Hatfield Three (“My Sister”, “Spin The Bottle”) reunion/reformation album, “Whatever, My Love”.
“I’ve always been prolific and productive and I have a good solid work ethic but this one happened so fast, I didn’t have time to think or plan,” says Hatfield. “I just went with it, rode the wave. And now it is out of my hands. It feels a little scary.”
”Pussycat” is being released into a very tense, divided and inflamed America. The songs are reflective of that atmosphere—angry (“When You’re A Star”), defiant (“Touch You Again”), disgusted (“Rhinoceros”), but also funny (“Short-Fingered Man”), reflective (“Wonder Why”), righteous (“Heartless”) and even hopeful (“Impossible Song”, with its chorus of ‘What if we tried to get along/and sing an impossible song’).
In an interview with The Patriot Ledger, Juliana expands on the theme of the album:
"It became clear when I started to write there were going to be a lot of songs here, and when it became that, I knew I had to make an album," she said. "I felt an urgency because things are moving so fast; some of the subject matter might be out of date soon. It's inspired by current events, not just the presidency – I have a song about Bill Cosby, for example – and I want to make sure it's out before it becomes obsolete."
They're here!!! @julianahatfield PUSSYCAT cassettes arrived safely today at HQ. Special thanks to @daykampcreative for the awesome art design. #cassette #analogtape #cassetteculture #cassettetape #pinkcassette #newalbum #julianahatfield #americanlaundromatrecords #nationalaudiocompany #daykampcreative #cassettecollector #cassettejunkie