Published: September, 2005, Rasputin Manifesto
Juliana Hatfield
Made In China

(Ye Olde Records)

By Michael Fortes

It's unfortunate that Juliana Hatfield is not regarded as highly as peers and contemporaries like Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain, Polly Jean Harvey, Liz Phair, and other critical darlings who sold more records and made more money.

After 8 full-length albums (9 if you count the unreleased God's Foot), at least 6 EPs, a 'best of' compilation, a four-year career and a reunion with the Blake Babies, tenure with the Lemonheads and an enjoyable side project called Some Girls, one would think she would at least be on the level of respect that her other former MTV playmates command these days.

But then, she did sort of shun the spotlight after Atlantic took her God's Foot album hostage. Like Pearl Jam, Juliana narrowed down her audience, and did it even better. Those still listening should feel compelled to spread the word about Juliana's new disc, Made In China.

Quite simply put, Made In China is Juliana Hatfield's Plastic Ono Band. Almost.

Made In China is borne totally of Juliana's own emotions, her own frustrations, and her own (non-)design. It reflects an assessment of herself , as posted in the "open letter" rant on her web site (www.julianahatfield.com), as a "conflicted mess" Being that it's such a raw outpouring of feeling, it takes on many of the qualities of John Lennon's historic opus simply by virtue of the circumstances that led to its creation.

Like Lennon, Hatfield has had a hard time coming to grips with the public measuring her against her past. Where Lennon spoke directly ("I don't believe in Beatles") of his past and cast it off in "God," Juliana resorts to sarcasm in "What Do I Care" - "what the fuck / it's a miracle / I'm even here."

She then goes on to ridicule bold-faced liars in "On Video" (she singles out pedophile priests in her online rant when referring to this song, though the lyrics lend themselves to plenty of other possible targets). She takes aim at the 'dumb blonde' mindset/stereotype in "Going Blonde," and assails blind faith in "Send Money" ("Save yourself / If you want to pray for me / Tell God to send me some money").

"Hole In The Sky" is the only song that comes close to approximating a tender moment, which Juliana's best albums have plenty of (and Plastic Ono Band had two in "Love" and "Hold On").

The mood of the words varies very little, but the music makes up for that. "New Waif" is short and unconventional in structure, a song that begs repeated listenings just to get a grip on how it works. "Hole In The Sky" is the obligatory acoustic guitar number. "Oh" finds Juliana laying down a slow, slinky, grungy groove as she drums for the first time on one of her records.

And in a final, great example of Juliana as a "conflicted mess," there's "Send Money," a stark closer that places her layered lead vocals up front for a grating effect, leaving the chorus indelibly stamped in one's mind.

When she sings "tell God to send me some money," it obviously sounds like a sarcastic taunt. Yet, it's so forcefully rendered and repeated, even when unaccompanied at the very end, that one has to wonder if maybe she's a little bit serious.

But we're supposed to be wondering, aren't we? Of course, as Lennon once sang just before his period of retirement, "all I can tell you is it's all show-biz." And what a show it is.