This century she has released the demos turned indie-pop songcraft one, the alt-metal noisy one, the polished AOR one, the abrasive angsty one, the live one, the country collaboration one and the ambitious multi-layered statement of genius one.
It follows, almost naturally, that 2010 is time for the DIY acoustic one. Say hello to Peace & Love.
The sound of the album will be familiar to fans who downloaded songs from Juliana’s Honor System project in 2009 and her contribution to the Mark Mulcahy tribute album.
Created exclusively at home, with apparently no external influences, this is Juliana’s most personal album in every sense.
As much as it is a reaction to How To Walk Away it still shares that album’s overwhelming message. This is an artist at peace with her work, more confident than ever with her talent and unashamedly proud.
The sleeve proclaims that the album was “composed, arranged, performed, produced, engineered and mixed by Juliana Hatfield.” As much a statement of confidence as it is fact.
It is an album of largely minimal instrumentation but with just enough nuances in texture and creative techniques to avoid sounding bland after its 12 songs - a risk that any acoustic album has to take.
Juliana’s trademark multilayered vocals are used extensively, and in the limited acoustic setting this effect is noticeable and often used for inspired harmonic appeal. The electric guitar makes an occasional, if understated, appearance too.
The album opens with the title track Peace and Love. The theme of the record is captured here. As the lyrical tone expands to familiar Juliana territory of personal introspection over the following 11 songs, Peace and Love is significantly placed at the start to inform the listener that whilst hurt, pain and frustration remain such emotions can be accepted if not embraced.
I won’t give up on Peace and Love
If acceptance was also key to the lyrical success of How To Walk Away, this album expands this to emphasise hope. As an album opener it is an inspired choice and as good a scene setter for the acoustic and harmonic subtleties that follow.
The End Of The War is a reflective look on confrontation and its life affirming qualities, matched by the music’s subdued rhythmic energy.
Why Can’t We Love Each Other introduces a simple piano and drum machine rhythm section. Lyrically there’s no surprise given the song’s title. It’s Juliana gone hippie - you know, all Peace & Love.
Some fans will already be familiar with Butterflies from the previous year or two, not least as it has previously appeared on a Daytrotter session. As Juliana mentions in her track by track notes, the song was inspired by a dream where she was surrounded by butterflies. Here, she brings them back to life. The music captures that ethereal dreamworld quality with delicate touches and her voice hitting some near breathless high notes.
Juliana returns to behavioural introspection commonplace throughout her career on What Is Wrong. She doesn’t have an answer for sadness or lack of communication in herself and others. But this is not despair. It just asks the question - why?
By track 6 we hit a first for Juliana. An instrumental, appropriately titled Unsung. Pedants who have pointed to 1993‘s Batwing and 2007‘s This Is What I Think Of You should note that there are vocals if not words on them. Unsung is her first instrumental. Blah.
There’s electric guitar here too, but not how you’d expect.
A pleasant little diversion before the album reveals its most surprising lyrics as it moves on to Evan, dedicated to Juliana’s frequent musical collaborator for more than two decades and Mr Lemonheads himself, Evan Dando. There’s no ambiguity about the perspective of the songwriter or who the song is intended for. Juliana has never written lyrics quite like this before. Somehow, with its delicate tone and bittersweet lyrical touch the listener avoids feeling like an aural voyeur and is drawn into the content with affection and warmth. It’s one the most beautiful songs Juliana has ever written.
I’ve tried to write you off but can’t so I’ll give up.
Evan, I just love you I guess.
After a delightfully casual electric guitar solo, Juliana returns with vocal emotion to repeat the last line.
Let’s Go Home is the most ‘DIY’ sounding track on the album with a simple drum machine loop prominent in the mix. Unlike the other tracks it doesn’t sound quite finished and to these ears is the most disappointing song here. These ears are not James Parker’s though who describes the song positively in his evocative style that spreads across the rather splendid liner notes.
Then to I Picked You Up, already an established fan favourite after its appearance on 2008’s Live at Lime session. Some fans wondered if it would survive Juliana’s selection for the album given its genesis in her personal past, but with hindsight it just had to appear on Peace & Love. A song about fate, love and hope it fits perfectly. It still sounds gorgeous.
Faith In Our Friends is perhaps the album’s most accessible song with an immediately catchy melody, driven by an acoustic guitar rhythm in parts and some nice little dynamics. Again, the theme suits the album. In times of need, in times of sadness, there is always your friends.
Hatfield aficionados / trainspotters / nutcases will note that I’m Disappearing contains musical traces of I Wish from the 2009 Honor Downloads.
The track finds Juliana, not for the first time in her career, singing about anorexia. She’s written and sung about her personal suffering from the disorder before. One hopes that in the future she may not need to revisit this theme but if so her audience will again be there to listen and empathise. Whatever you need, Juliana.
The album closes with Dear Anonymous addressed to a stalker from the recipient’s point of view. With a mix of questions and wish to understand the stalker’s motive the song on first analysis appears a curious choice for the last one. However, as it reaches its own conclusion so does the album’s overall theme:
I’m just singing into the void, just trying to say my piece/peace
I thank god I got no real enemies
I killed them all with kindness so we could live in peace
As Juliana once sang:
Forever and ever.
(This review first appeared on liveontomorrow.co.uk - a Juliana Hatfield fansite)