Filed under: album, review | Tags: juliana hatfield, peace and love, terry mulcahy
Peace & Love •••
Ye Olde Records
From Anthony and Cleopatra to Brad and Angelina, the braying masses have been fascinated with turbulent, enigmatic celebrity coupledom. And while the sphere of indie music is not especially known for producing glossy magazine figureheads, nor are its fans known for their propensity toward asinine speculation, it isn’t a world bereft of will-they-won’t-they gossip. Forget your Kurt and Courtneys though, because nestled quietly in the heart of this noisy, chaotic industry was the love affair of Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield. While their relationship (or lack thereof) has been discussed to death over the years, it’s clear that, “just friends” or nay, the bond they share is one that feeds them both with a good deal of their creativity. And on Hatfield’s eleventh solo effort Peace & Love, Dando is a spectre that still holds great importance. Far from being an embittered or ironic title, Hatfield has produced an album replete with hopeful songs that make for surprisingly intimate and confessional pieces – a trait that she seems to shrug off as insignificant. She is known for being both direct and simple in her approach lyrically, and the songs on offer here are a perfect example of this.
True to form, Hatfield has placed, directly in the middle of proceedings, a track entitled simply ‘Evan’. It is an acoustic delight; Hatfield’s gentle strumming is a sweet accompaniment to her notoriously girlish vocals. Lyrically she addresses none of the rumours surrounding their partnership but instead goes for a heartbreakingly personal address to Dando himself. “Evan, we’re burnt by the same sun / wherever you are, wherever I run,” she coos in a line that defines the song’s ethos, and that of the whole album; putting anger and painful memories aside in favour of seeking out those elusive qualities that bind all humans; the struggle to love, the search for peace. The song is rounded out by the inclusion of gentle electric guitar, harmonica and sparse piano as Hatfield repeats “Evan, I just love you I guess”. It’s touching, honest and sanguine.
‘Evan’ is a good marker for the album as a whole, produced by Hatfield herself. She also played all the instruments and recorded the whole shebang on an eight-track digital recorder. Noticeably lacking in the production values of her more recent releases, for Peace & Love Hatfield has opted to re-explore the DIY ethic of her youth. An admirable change in pace, it sounds sparse but crystal clear, with Hatfield’s radio-friendly vocals having a very pure quality. Eschewing her grunge-rock heritage in favour of gentle pieces that bring the lyrics to the fore sometimes works against her, however, creating embarrassingly twee pieces like ‘Butterflies’, ‘Why Can’t We Love Each Other’ and ‘Faith In Our Friends’, none of which ever rise above the most obvious interpretation of their titles. Respectively they are a song about pretty butterflies, the futility of conflict, and the importance of unconditional love (the latter of which, to its credit, has a pleasing alt-country sensibility complete with twangy acoustic guitar and catchy drum machine beat).
It’s a shame that, with ‘Evan’, Hatfield has created not only the main focal point of the album but also by far its best track, with the rest of the songs sadly paling in their ability to create anything musically complex. Opting for minimalism, only a few tracks stand out; ‘What Is Wrong’ is both discordant and sweet, the lilting key changes and unexpected electric guitar solo preventing the piece from descending into the realms of adult-contemporary anonymity. The title track begins with foreboding chords very much reminiscent of Shannon Wright before slurring into a delightful chorus with saccharine vocals and soothing guitar strums; the key refrain “I won’t give up / on peace and love” does well to set out the agenda for the album in its plainest terms. Lastly, ‘I’m Disappearing’, while musically forgettable, offers a very poignant exploration of anorexia: “My bluest veins / are hidden by what i’m wearing,” sings Hatfield in her most vulnerable vocal. Just as we expect of her, it is brutally honest without being brutal.
As an album it’s hard to escape the fact that Peace & Love is disappointing. When compared with Hatfield’s more exciting past efforts, acoustic or not, a better album is to be expected. While it seems churlish to critique what was obviously such a labour of love, and one that does show considerable skill and passion, Peace & Love doesn’t really aspire to more than “pleasantly adequate” status.
UK release date: 15/02/10; www.myspace.com/julianahatfield
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