Juliana Hatfield: Pussycat Review

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Juliana Hatfield: <i>Pussycat</i> Review

The current resident of the White House will likely inspire plenty of angry art during his four years time in office. Credit Boston indie-rock institution Juliana Hatfield with landing the first full-force blow. Pussycat is a relentless, unabashed and unvarnished reaction to the Trump presidency; a frequently gruesome, sometimes funny and even occasionally hopeful assault on the assaulter-in-chief.

To be clear: this isn’t a record with a couple of passing references to political dissatisfaction, or a song or two about a lousy leader. Every song on Pussycat connects unequivocally to Donald J. Trump himself (“Short-Fingered Man”), his campaign (“Kellyanne”), his statements (“When You’re a Star”) or the country divided by his election (“Impossible Song”).

Hatfield has never shied away from confrontation in her lyrics, opting instead for the liberation of speaking hard truths bluntly. But even by her standards, Pussycat is startlingly direct. Hatfield laces the album with violence, mining the tension between her bubblegum pop voice and the venom she gives lines like “He’s a fucking animal” in the album closer “Everything Is Forgiven.”

Pussycat responds most ferociously to Trump’s attitudes toward and attacks on women. “Rhinoceros” likens sex with the President to “getting fucked by [a] rhinoceros,” after which Melania (called out by name) needs to “wash the shit away.” The narrator of “Sex Machine,” desperate to rid herself of a nameless-but-recognizable man, offers to build a gadget that can “do all of the things/you want a girl to.” You can, she urges, “put your hands on the sex machine/put your lips on the sex machine/put your dick in the sex machine.” From there, the song descends into a litany of nauseating suggestions: “Love it, hate it/ demean it, debase it…pound it, berate it/if you’re frustrated/kick it, break it/you can replace it.”

But the women of Pussycat stand firm in the face of Trumpian misogyny, refusing to surrender one iota. “Rhinoceros” and “Sex Machine” leave their male characters looking all the more pathetic for their brutality. “Short-Fingered Man” hiding nothing in subtext, mocks Trump’s sexual (im)potency, at one point imagining his bored lover falling asleep. And it’s not clear what happened to the domineering predator described in “Touch You Again,” but he sure as heck isn’t ever coming back.

Some songs, like the hopeful “Impossible Song” or “Sunny Somewhere” (and, notably, the daydream of freedom in the middle of “Sex Machine”) hearken back to Hatfield’s brighter indie-pop days. But mostly, guitars buzz and growl, sometimes breaking into a full-blown roar.

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.