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:

oh, did i tell you i am making a new album?

A post shared by @julianahatfield on

“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:

short-fingered man
can’t get her off
short-fingered man
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."

She hasn't.

We haven't.

We mustn't.

Pussycat is available in various physical formats - vinyl, cd and cassette(!) at American Laundromat Records, and digitally at Bandcamp, iTunes and elsewhere. The vinyl version is also available from UK distributor Cargo Records.

review by Craig Scrogie, April 2017