Music

With a New Covers Project, Juliana Hatfield Sets Her Sights on the Police

Photo: Stacee Sledge / Courtesy of Think Press

Continuing her take on artist-themed covers albums, Juliana Hatfield takes a stab at the Police songbook, with unique, marvelous results.

Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police
Juliana Hatfield

American Laundromat

15 November 2019

Covers projects can be a dicey proposition. For established artists, it could be a sign of creative bankruptcy or just plain laziness. Often it's simply a love letter from artist to artist, acknowledging the influence and (hopefully) paying solid, earnest tribute. The key to a successful tribute album is to shed new light on the songs while remaining faithful to the spirit of the original. That is where Weezer got it so painfully wrong on their surprise covers album, The Teal Album, which contains ten note-for-note covers of songs the whole world knows by heart. That's not a cover, that's karaoke. What's the point?

Juliana Hatfield understands how to make a good covers album. Last year, her Olivia Newton-John tribute album won several accolades. While she didn't stray too far from the original arrangements, she helped shed light on the songbook of an artist who, despite a string of successful singles, has remained largely underrated. With her latest covers album, Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, Hatfield is tackling a completely different type of artist and is surpassing the Newton-John project by rearranging the songs in an often striking fashion. Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland made up a band that was not necessarily known for being covered ad nauseum, and that's odd because hearing their songs performed by another artist only confirms the quality of these songs.

What's interesting about the song selection is that Hatfield doesn't go out of her way to only cover deep cuts or b-sides. Sure, there are plenty of those here, but she's also covering "Roxanne", "Every Breath You Take", and other popular singles. It seems as if the only requirement for making the tracklist is if she likes the song. Many of the songs have an insular, new wave sheen that pays a sort of sideways tribute to the band. The Police came out of the age of punk but bolstered their sound through their combined love of more exotic styles such as jazz and reggae. Hatfield takes the songs and brings them back to the simpler, more emotionally direct punk/new wave sounds of the Police's peers. It's almost as if the material has come full circle.

Hatfield has simplified and deconstructed the songs, playing most of the instruments herself – Chris Anzalone of Roomful of Blues plays drums on a few songs, and Ed Valauskas of the Gravel Pit played about half of the bass parts. "In the Police, each player's style was so distinctive, accomplished, and unique that I didn't even attempt to match any of it," she said in the album's press materials. "For anyone to try and play drums like Stewart Copeland would be a thankless, pointless task that is bound to fail." Are you listening, Rivers Cuomo?

Kicking off the collection is Hatfield's swaggering take on "Can't Stand Losing You", full of noisy guitars and sneering harmonies. The emotional detachment of this version is similar to the original – it's hard to put a smiley face on Sting's ode to heartbreak-inspired suicide. It's good to see lesser-known songs get equal exposure here. The bouncy ska of "Canary in a Coalmine" gets a lively rendering. "Hungry for You (J'Aurais Toujours Faim De Toi)", a minor-key power pop gem from Ghost in the Machine, is given new life as the French lyrics, which came off as a bit pretentious in Sting's hands, have the air of an obscure European synthpop single.

A refreshing aspect of the album is the variety with which Hatfield treats the better-known songs. The reggae stylings of "Roxanne" are transformed into a slow dirge, with distorted guitar chords slashing the air. Hatfield's version of "Every Breath You Take", however, isn't too much of a departure from the original; she speeds it up a little, and her vocals, particularly in the dramatic bridge, lift the song to previously undiscovered heights. The fiery urgency of "Next to You" – the first song on the first Police album – is dialed down and turned into a more sedate slice of guitar-crunch post-punk. A different arrangement, but still intensely catchy.

Hatfield has made a point on this album to choose songs that seem to resonate in the current world climate. "Rehumanize Yourself", "Landlord", and "Murder By Numbers" are examples of songs that touch on issues of classism, abuse of power, and the ugly tenets of nationalism. As a result, that trio of songs is infused with a clear-cut punk delivery, which is very much in line with the Police's versions, except for "Murder By Numbers", which was originally created in a cool, detached, jazzy style. In Hatfield's hands, it becomes one of the more visceral tracks on the album.

As Juliana Hatfield has demonstrated, the Police songbook is wide and varied enough to be open to endless interpretation. As she has demonstrated with this album as well as the Olivia Newton-John project, she's a musician who is dedicated to paying tribute to the music of her youth and finding new and interesting ways to present it. One can only wonder what her next covers project – assuming there is one – will entail.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.