Around the summer 2005 release of Made in China, Juliana Hatfield posted a gutsy, revealing letter on her website. In it she writes proudly of the album's ragged feel, of her role as producer, of having released it through her own Ye Olde imprint. But there's also a weird, rambling defensiveness to the note. "People can buy this record or not," she writes. "I don't care. Or at least I pretend not to care. But I do care." She goes on to condemn artistic greed, industrial pollution, and the pressure on female artists to market themselves sexually. And then in her usual cynical fashion Hatfield winks at the whole notion, putting a photo of herself in a bathtub into the album's booklet. Made in China is as honest and unadorned as that letter. It unmasks her empty feelings on love (the slithery, dispassionate breakup song "On Video") and hate for a poisoned world ("Rats in the Attic," which musically is this record's closest amalgam to her past work), and in its strikingly direct recording quality it reacts to 2004's In Exile Deo, which despite being her strongest album in a long time was a little over-produced. For all these things China is terrifically rewarding. It's raw -- like a home-recording genius blistering the dry wall with four-track recordings, the solo confessionals "A Doe and Two Fawns" and "Send Money" shatter silence with twining tones and sly lyrics. ("If you want to pray for me, tell God to send me some money," goes the latter.) It bashes -- "What Do I Care" features the Boston band Unbusted and mulls over Hatfield's alternative rock darling past. And she considers whether any of it mattered, whether she was exploited, and whether or not she even cares in retrospect. She's accepting of those days, but rightly pissed that she'll be compared to them forever. In Exile Deo was her arrival as a mature, seen-it-all-and-still-wondering songwriter. But China is the truly unguarded version of that idea in both sound and song. Opener "New Waif" establishes that. As the music builds and bristles, Hatfield sings of love and missed chances, and the filter on her voice makes a total nonfactor of that girlish quality everybody used to fawn over so much. She's the new version of herself, the now version, and what does she care if you don't like it? But you will.
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus