“She sings a lot and she has two songs on the album,” Love interjects.
“Yeah, it just wouldn’t have worked,” Hatfield agrees.
Which is a shame, because Crushing Love is among the best recordings the prolific Hatfield has been involved in since 2000, when the Blake Babies reunited to record the surprising God Bless the Blake Babies (Zoë/Rounder, 2001), a disc that featured the original trio along with cameos by Freda’s husband, Jake Smith, and Hatfield’s long-time friend Evan Dando. The return of the Blake Babies might have come as a surprise to many, but it made sense in light of developments in Hatfield’s solo career. After flirting with mainstream alt-rock success on Atlantic, she’d hit a creative impasse surrounding an album the major label wasn’t happy with. And singles like the frothy, polished, somewhat saccharine “Spin the Bottle” had alienated some of the core indie-oriented Blake Babies fans she seemed determined to win back beginning with 1998’s Bed (Zoë/Rounder). That disc signaled a major step back to where the Blake Babies left off — a brand of bittersweet jangle and buzz pop that offset her girlish vocals — as well as a move forward toward more alluring grooves and more telling lyrics.
“Knowing about rock and pop and distinguishing between the two is important to me because a lot of words and categories have been thrown at me,” she says when I mention the lyrics to Crushing Love’s spare yet raw, feedback-filled “Rock or Pop?” “I just think I’ve been misrepresented because people can’t get past the way my voice sounds — the delicate girly sound of my voice. They can’t get past it so they label me as something that I’m not. They think that that’s geared to please the masses. But making music for me has always been a very personal and crucial part of my mental health and existence. I’ve always just had to do it. I’ve never tried to write hits for the radio. And there are people who are disappointed in me for not taking that path. I’ve just always been more inspired by rock music, even though I do love pop music in its own way.”
Later, she’ll call to clarify her thoughts. “I just wanted to say that I think that what I’m trying to do in that song is implicitly make the case that I am rock as opposed to pop. I’m not just trying to define what rock is and what pop is. I’m trying to make the case that I’m rock and not pop.”
More than a definition of terms, “Rock or Pop?” is an indictment of what pop music has become in the era of faux reality-TV bands and manufactured hits. “Does god read the liner notes?/Does god watch the awards shows?”, Hatfield asks over a slinky guitar line, the sparest of backbeats, and no bass. “Think of the difference/Are you writing for an audience?/Or are you writing for yourself?/Very willing to go straight to hell.” This from an album that opens with Hatfield crooning “This is not a movie baby/A happy ending is not guaranteed/And this is not one of those songs for radio/You’re not going to write this one so easily” against an innocent backdrop of strummed acoustic guitar, handclaps, and a pleasant melody. When she sings, “I’ve been thinking for hours about it,” you get the sense that she’s been thinking about her role as a musician for days, months, maybe years.