At one point or another, we’ve all lovingly paid tribute to our favorite artists by covering an entire album of their work, but it was usually done alone in the car or at home and far away from a judging audience. Actual cover albums, however, are left up to the audiences and critics, and are weighed against the original. In short, they are a tightrope walk. At its worst, the covers are so faithful to the originals that it leaves the listener wondering, “So what’s the point?” At its best, a covers album sees an artist putting their own fresh spin on the music in a way that honors the source material while also creating something unique. With the recent release of Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police, Hatfield has managed to do just that: taking songs we’ve all heard countless times over the years and melds each with her style to make it much more than just a covers album.
With a career that dates back more than 30 years, Hatfield has been one of indie-rock’s most prolific singer-songwriters. She debuted with Nicely, Nicely, from her first band, college-rock legends Blake Babies. The band dissolved following four albums, and she has subsequently released sixteen solo albums, two albums with The Juliana Hatfield Three, two albums with Some Girls, and a reunion album with Blake Babies. (View Discography)
Even for someone already as productive as Hatfield, her signing with American Laundromat Records in 2017 marked the beginning of her most prolific period, releasing five albums (four solo and one with a reunited Juliana Hatfield Three) in just two years. While she’d previously released an album of cover songs — 2012’s self-titled Juliana Hatfield (featuring songs by Foo Fighters, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Led Zeppelin, amongst others) — it was with the 2018 release of Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John that she made one of her most interesting career choices: taking on an entire album of music by another artist, whose selection might have initially surprised even her long-time fans. Last month’s release of Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police marks the second in a hopefully ongoing series of albums honoring her musical influences.
Just as Hatfield has made a career out of defying expectations with her many side projects and cover albums, she does the same with The Police songs she chose to cover for this album. While many beloved hits are present on the album (“Roxanne,” “Every Breath You Take,” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”, for example), she pulled the rest from points across the band’s catalog, with tracks from each of their five albums.
- Can’t Stand Losing You
- Canary in a Coalmine
- Next To You
- Hungry For You (J’aurais Toujours Faim De Toi)
- Every Breath You Take
- Hole In My Life
- De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
- Murder By Numbers
- Rehumanize Yourself
Most noticeable from the opening track, “Can’t Stand Losing You,” is that Hatfield eschews The Police’s groundbreaking hybrid of new wave and reggae, reimagining each song in her own style. While the original track from The Police’s first album Outlandos D’Amour had a sadness at the heart of it, Hatfield’s vocals seem to recast the narrative as more defiant, with a tone more of “good riddance” than “please don’t go.”
Throughout the album, Hatfield plays with the tempos of the original tracks, slowing them down where the band hit the accelerator. On the second track, “Canary in a Coalmine,” and the third track, “Next To You,” she slows down the original tracks’ frantic pace. In doing so, both tracks have a more playful tone to them versus the intensity they possessed before. Juliana Hatfield’s vocals have always had a sweetness to them, even when the lyrics are sorrowful.
Two of the standout tracks on the album are the one-two punch of two of The Police’s biggest hits: “Roxanne” and “Every Breath You Take,” with each revisited through a different lens. “Roxanne,” Sting’s romantic ode, now feels like a dirge, with its crashing guitar riffs. Hatfield’s almost desperate pleading is balanced by her own harmonized backing vocals, almost angelic in stark contrast.
On her career-spanning greatest-hits album, Gold Stars 1992-2002: The Juliana Hatfield Collection, Hatfield previously covered “Every Breath You Take,” which had a brokenhearted yearning to it, like the song’s narrator is making a last-ditch effort to will back an ex. While much has been made of the implied meaning of the original song, Hatfield recasts it as a genuinely sweet romantic ode.
For all the beauty she infuses into “Every Breath You Take,” she takes the opposite approach to “Hole in My Life.” Her focus here is squarely on the pain in the lyrics, and she tones down the song’s tempo to match its mournfulness. Where The Police balanced the heartbroken lyrics with an almost bouncy rhythm, Hatfield lets it wallow in its own dejected misery.
In her take of Synchronicity’s “Murder By Numbers,” she does away with the sing-songy rhythm and soulful vocals of the original in favor of a fuzz-guitar sped-up punk. You can feel the Boston punk scene Hatfield grew up around in the 80’s in its style: now a foot-stomping, fist-pumping moshing classic that is one of the album’s standout tracks. Just as she did with her tribute to Olivia Newton-John, she manages to straddle the line of honoring the original material expertly, while also breathing new life into each song by layering herself into them. Though …Sings The Police is the second in her series of cover/tribute albums, it stands on its own as an album uniquely belonging to Juliana Hatfield.
Juliana Hatfield Tour Dates:
1/16 Evanston, IL @ S.P.A.C.E.
1/17 Indianapolis, IN @ Hi-Fi
1/18 Nashville, TN @ The Basement East
1/19 Birmingham, AL @ Workplay Theater
1/21 Dallas, TX @ Granada Theatre
1/22 Austin, TX @3Ten at ACL Live
1/24 Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
1/25 Pioneertown, CA @ Pappy + Harriet’s
1/27 Los Angeles, CA @ The Echoplex
1/28 San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s
1/30 Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
2/01 Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern