I first started listening to Juliana Hatfield when I was thirteen, when I didn’t know who I was quite yet but I knew who I didn’t want to be, and what kind of music I didn’t want to listen to. I hated anything perfect, anything normal – I gravitated towards the damaged, the delicate, the fragile, the odd. I heard something in Juliana’s music that spoke to that loner soul I had inside of me. Twenty five years later and I still feel the same.
In the last two years we’ve been lucky enough to have two brilliant new Juliana albums released – the politically charged Pussycat and her tribute to her own childhood idol Olivia Newton John. The third album in as many years is more personal, concerned with what it means to be a little Weird.
Opener Staying In embraces the joy of being alone, enjoying stepping away from the expectations of society and doing whatever the fuck you want instead. Juliana is fifty now, even if her voice still sounds as youthful as ever (the jangly guitars haven’t changed much either). What’s different is the tone of her voice – now she is more sure of herself, happier even. Being alone is a comfort, not a curse.
It doesn’t mean it’s always easy being weird (I would know). On the second song she recalls a conversation with her brother who asks her awkward questions about her aromantic life ‘where do you go for love?’ ‘Don’t you ever need someone to put your arms around?’ Her response is ‘no’ but she knows other people probably think it’s so weird. There’s a telling line in the song which hints at why, ‘There is no replacement for what is gone’ suggests something has been lost – a true love maybe or just the dream of an imagined life. She embraces her choices, even if others find it unusual. You can do anything that you want when you don’t belong to anyone. Being single is freedom – even if society has always tried to construct the opposite narrative (the scholar Bella DePaulo does some excellent work on this subject).
Despite the title, this album is actually pretty straightforward musically and the lyrics have a lightness of touch, which maybe has come as a result of the ONJ project. ‘Sugar’ is a catchy little song about how difficult it is to quit something sweet, even if it’s bad for you. All Right, Yeah is a bit of dumb fun too.
Juliana is still concerned with the world around her, even if the anger of Pussycat has been replaced with a wry sigh. Everything’s For Sale condemns twenty first century capitalism by listing a whole bunch of crazy things you can buy – from altered DNA to self cleaning ovens. Paid to Lie also casts a withering eye over the false ways of the world.
The two best songs on the album are rooted in her personal experiences. On Broken Doll she takes a look in the mirror and accepts the flaws of age with a nonchalant shrug of her guitar. The unexpectedly groovy Lost Ship is a mediation on solitude and the comfort of swimming in her own private ocean. In the gorgeous video she is alone under pink skies, playing guitar, letting the wind whip through her hair. Hints at the pain of the past still hover near the surface, telling us that hurts may have faded but she’s not going to risk them ever happening again. Maybe that’s a tragic way to live your life or maybe avoidance is the only way to survive, the only way to thrive.
The album finishes off with Do It To Music, which is a celebration of soundtracking your life in every way possible – from blocking out the world with headphones to crying your face off to dancing around your room with a broom. It’s feels throwaway on first listen but I actually think it’s one of the most important songs on the album. Life disappoints and hurts, efforts often fall short, melody is an elevator, makes everything seem better. There’s the real truth right there.
Weird is the sound of an artist embracing herself and who she has become with pride and grace. It’s a refreshing and reassuring listen for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider. Weirdos of the world unite.
The Juliana Hatfield 3 will back in the U.K. on tour soon: https://www.julianahatfield.com/shows/