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PJ Harvey
Albums

  • Dry,
  • Rid Of Me,
  • To Bring You My Love,
  • Is This Desire,
  • Stories From The City...,
  • Uh Huh Her
  • White Chalk
  • A Woman, A Man Walked By
  • Let England Shake








  • Adrian's Album Reviews |

    PJ Harvey

    Dry ( 1992 )
    Oh My Lover / O Stella / Dress / Victory / Happy And Bleeding / Sheela-Na-Gig / Hair / Joe / Plants And Rags / Fountain / Water

    Dorset in the English west-country is not generally known for it's thriving Rock scene, at least, not to the world at large. At least it wasn't, until a three piece band called 'PJ Harvey' arrived with a snappy little single called 'Dress' and immediately got picked up by the alternative Radio One shows. Even to this very day, 'Dress' sounds immaculate with it's pounding urgent drums, powerful vocal and tight bass runs. Polly Jean Harvey plays the guitar, a violin comes in, everything remains urgent and powerful, exhilarating and enjoyable. Nothing else on this debut album comes close, though, although a handful of songs here are certainly enjoyable. The opening 'Oh My Lover' shows off Polly's vocal capabilities, a fairly unique sounding voice with a faint west-country accent noticeable. The actual song itself is simple musically, very sparse, too sparse for my liking. The guitar makes itself heard, but doesn't play anything terribly interesting. 'O Stella' is better, opens quietly before exploding and features a strong and tight rhythm section performance. It leads perfectly into 'Dress', and by the time that has finished, you may well have very high hopes, thoughts or expectations surrounding the merits of this album as a whole. It never quite delivers on the promise of 'Dress'. 'Victory' is notable for it's bass lines more than anything else, although Polly turns in a fine, powerful vocal. 'Happy And Bleeding' opens with a distinctive guitar line, features other interesting guitar sounds but never quite takes off and soars. 'Shelia Na Gig' is a great song that was released as a follow-up to 'Dress' if my memory serves me. The lyrics are interesting here to say the least as Polly gets all sensual on us, remains biting and scathing, more so than elsewhere on this record, in fact.

    The second half of the record gives us 'Hair' and 'Joe', the former almost PJ Harvey by numbers, exploding into an already almost obligatory 'loud' section, and switching between that and quieter sections. The whole album actually is strangely quiet sonically, and always requires me to turn up the volume on my Stereo. Well, I guess that's something to do with the way this album has been mixed, as once you do turn up the volume, everything sounds fine. You shouldn't HAVE to turn up the volume, however. Well, I don't think so. Records that survive purely on their sonic impact are perhaps limited some way in terms of writing? Unless the entire point of the record is to be loud and aggressive, but that doesn't seem quite the case here, some of the lyrics in particular show signs of someone wanting to be very serious about her writing. 'Joe' matches the urgent energy of 'Dress' and is a highlight of this set, guitars very aggressive here. 'Plants And Rags' is a song that actually does work whatever the volume. Acoustic guitar, soft and quite pretty vocals, "ease myself into a body-bag", and then the violins come in! It's striking certainly, and enjoyably uneasy listening. 'Fountain' is less enjoyable, repeats the quiet to loud switches but isn't terribly interesting melodically, or performance wise. 'Water' is a fascinating song lyrically and works very well to close the album. A good album, certainly for a debut, even if it doesn't quite match the promise that was demonstrated by 'Dress'.

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    David Pipperrypembo@gmail.com
    I really really like this album. It was the first PJ Album I heart and is a great introduction to her. The shame is I ignored most of the album at first. Most of the songs can be forgettable aside Dress, Sheela, or Hair. But when I came back one day, I found each of the songs so powerful in it's own way. Plants and Rags has compelled me to organize a gathering of fellows to play. PJ shines here best though in her Demo's(which were included on a special version). In versions of forgettable songs like "Oh My Lover" reveal sweeter ballads of what a producer can really skew.

    M
    This is my favorite PJ Harvey album. The highs and lows go well together. "Plants and Rags" is an amazing uneasy listening song just like you said. However, the first 4 songs are near perfection imo while the second side is really great as well. "Happy and Bleeding" is a weak link but I won't complain too much. 9/10

    GAZZA
    Excellent debut album , songs of death,lust and heartbreak with primitive backings that threaten to overwhelm polly in places . It also shows what a blind alley she was led up with "rid of me" which sounds constrained in comparison . At least 7 of the songs here are strong in parcticular "sheela na gig" "happy and bleeding" "plants and rags" and "dress" , so id say your rating was spot on .


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    Rid Of Me 6 ( 1993 )
    Rid Of Me / Missed / Legs / Rub 'Til It Bleeds / Hook / Man-Sized Sextet / Highway '61 Revisited / 50 Ft Queenie / Yuri-G / Man-Size / Dry / Me-Jane / Snake / Ecstasy

    Enter Steve Albini into the world of PJ Harvey, perhaps to correct the problems with 'Dry' in terms of volume. Well, he certainly DOES correct that problem, this album is very loud indeed in the places where the songs require it to be so. The thing is with Steve Albini, is that he has a sound. He has a particular way of placing emphasis on the drum sound, which may well have worked wonders with Nirvana and their 'In Utero' record, making already great drums even louder and more dramatic, but doesn't quite work as well here. The title track is half a song, relies almost entirely on supposed shock value based on the "lick my legs, i'm on fire" vocal refrain. 'Missed' is a much better song, although I have a complaint to make! Steve Albini was a lousy choice to produce PJ Harvey. The band wasn't good enough, to put it simply. A result of this is a very 'mushy' sound where apart from the drums, it's very difficult to pick out individual bass or guitar parts. There's just this 'noise' from which you have to strain to pick out the melody. There is melody here, all over the album in actual fact, but the production and mixing, although loud, doesn't lend itself to picking out interesting musical parts. 'Legs' has an astonishing vocal wailing from Polly, and then Steve Albini gets into gear. Maybe Polly wasn't confident enough in her own abilities to stamp her OWN personality onto the sound of the record? 'Dry' sounded like PJ Harvey. 'Rid Of Me' sounds like Steve Albini. Nirvana's 'In Utero' sounds both like Nirvana AND Steve Albini, which is how all the best Albini productions work, but that isn't really the case here. 'Rid Of Me' is a forty eight minute, fourteen song album. One of the songs is a cover of Bob Dylan's 'Highway 61 Revisited', which Polly and band never do manage to make their own. Another two tracks, and one song, is made up with 'Man Size' once in a string based version, once with a regular guitar and band version. The string based version comes across as being completely unnecessary. The point i'm trying to make here, is that 'Rid Of Me' partly by deliberate design, is a very intense listening experience. I feel it would have worked better as a shorter album than it is.

    A highlight arrives with '50ft Queenie', a song full of energy and riffing guitars, very aggressive drums and rhythmic assault. It swings! This is actually on of the few occasions on this album where the Albini / PJ Harvey match up works completely, perhaps because the guitar is actually doing something interesting, perhaps also because the song requires and demands an energetic performance unlike many of the mid-tempo songs making up the first half of the album. 'Yuri G' is an interesting song lyrically, 'Dry' the best song on the album along with '50ft Queenie'. There are points with this song where everything stops bar Polly and her own guitar, played quite softly. She sings these sections very well, and this is a good song that works. 'Me Jane' is another fast, energetic and powerful song that isn't hampered at all by the production but rather benefits from the Albini approach. 'Ecstasy' has a slightly disembodied lead vocal and the guitar and vocal show a few blues influences in the writing of Polly Harvey. It's an interesting, fascinating song to listen to. The album as a whole is fascinating in the same way it's fascinating to slow down whilst driving past a road accident in order to take a good look.

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    gazza gary.hess44@hotmail.com
    When will musicians start to accept that with albini the emperors clothes are truly gone . the guy is a barely competent engineer who has ruined countless albums from people desperately seeking credibility . In pollys case she didnt need it , the talents their in spades. pj doesnt really need a producer.

    David Erde pipperrypembo@gmail.com
    Rid Of Me is only imperfect. Nothing can be perfect. I was immediately appauled by the title track, and Missed just hurt my ears. I moved onto 4-Track Demos without looking back. 4-Track(for those uninformed) is basically the same album, merely like PJ's letter to Albini which he scribbled on. I immediately fell in love with 4-Tracks overt violence, but thats kind of besides the point. Once one accustoms yourself to 4-track and begins to understand, Rid of Me kind of becomes an interesting after-taste. It's much better listened to in retrospect to the 4-Tracks.


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    To Bring You My Love 8 ( 1995 )
    To Bring You My Love / Meet Ze Monsta / Working For The Man / C'mon Billy / Teclo / Long Snake Moan / Down By The Water / I Think I'm A Mother / Send His Love To Me / The Dancer

    Changes occurred in the land of PJ Harvey prior to the recording of this album. Steve Albini for a start, and not surprisingly, wasn't re-hired! PJ Harvey as a three-piece band were also no more, the bass player wasn't retained, Mick Harvey of Nick Cave fame was hired, a Tom Waits guy was hired. Flood was hired as producer and the overall sound is far from 'Rid Of Me'. Many of these songs go for a relatively sparse sound, but the result of this is often much more natural, sometimes very lo-fi, but always natural. The opening title track is as striking as an opening song can be, and immediately brings home the new sound of Polly Harvey. A single repeating guitar figure, haunting organ work and a vocal that threatens to break your speakers in two, and I do mean that in a good way! 'Meet Ze Monsta' is a slightly chugging mid-tempo song, not terribly interesting or developed, but not irritating to listen to thanks to the sound of the piece. And besides, I really love the "big black monsoon" vocal part, and the noise the guitars and organ create. 'Working For The Man' sounds like nothing else PJ Harvey had done before.  A low bass grooves away, drums add to the bass but not in a ROCK style, merely to emphasize the groove created by the bass. Minimal guitar and organ appear later on, a shaking percussion sound. This is the single most carefully developed musical track of her career so far. The vocal is low, almost mumbled, but it works. 'C'Mon Billy' works as well. The Organ / Guitar match-up is repeated and with a very crisp and fresh sounding guitar. It is interesting to note, Polly doesn't play as much guitar here as she did on the previous records, an additional guitar player takes many of the parts, Polly herself only plays on four of the albums ten songs.

    'Teclo' features Polly playing Guitar, Organ, Piano, Chimes, Bell and singing the vocal, of course! The vocal is striking, accomplished and improved over previous vocals from either of the previous albums. The song shows a continued interest in the blues, and a very good song it is. 'Long Snake Moan' is a wonderful noise and Rock groove with Nick Cave man Mick Harvey on Bass duties. 'Down By The Water' single-handily made me interested in PJ Harvey again after the disappointing 'Rid Of Me' album, which at the time, I didn't even buy. I bought this though, I even bought 'Down By The Water' as a single when it came out to preview the album. It became her first top 40 hit single, and is simply magnificent. It combines the lyrical 'shock' value of 'Rid Of Me' and combines it with a fascinating and exciting musical track heavy on percussion with the Bass parts played on an Organ, as far I can tell. Another great vocal, by the way. 'I'm A Mother' is slightly disappointing and rather unmemorable, 'Send His Love To Me' features another crisp and clear guitar performance, the closing 'The Dancer' one of the most haunting and beautiful songs she's ever done. Polly herself plays the Organ parts on much of this album, and it works. The Organ on 'The Dancer' is beautiful and scary both, the song is dark and brooding, as Polly discovers Nick Cave, it seems. Still, Nick Cave is fantastic, so that's fine with me! 'To Bring You My Love' is an uneasy as 'Rid Of Me', but far more developed musically and in terms of writing and song structure. Her vocals are much improved, and this is definitely a good album.

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    Mimichiou tomlock@caramail.com
    This is to me THE best buy about PJ Harvey. That's the point I came to when I listened to it "a bit stoned". Pure Sexual voice with rough but sophisticated songs. Probably the best successor to Smith's Horses. 9 1/2

    Gazza garyhess44@hotmail.com
    Wonderful album - after albini turned her raw blues into a monotonous sludge of sound , this time theres a depth and variety to the music that wasnt their on rid of me (which could have been a great album if recorded properly) all the performances stand up impeccably but perhaps to be fair the standard of musician on this record is a lot higher too . Its a very sexy record too - great bedroom music !!


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    Is This Desire 7 ( 1998 )
    Angelene / The Sky Lit Up / The Wind / My Beautiful Leah / Perfect Day Elise, A / Catherine / Electric Light / The Garden / Joy / The River / No Girl So Sweet / Is This Desire?

    A more luxuriously produced record here, ditching the sometimes lo-fi feel of 'To Bring You My Love' and adding former Captain Beefheart man, and occasionally former Pixies man Frank Black's keyboard player, Eric Drew Feldman. 'Angelene' opens the album, and opens it  very quietly, a restrained performance, although the song and vocal are both quite beautiful. 'The Sky Lit Up' goes for a semi-industrial sound, a strained vocal going both low and high, and although this song does possess an energy about it, comes across as being slightly half formed, an impression further enhanced by the songs sub two minute length and lack of a proper beginning, middle or end. 'The Sky Lit Up' just is. It's a two minute sonic experiment. 'The Wind' is a four minute sonic experiment, a whispered vocal, repeating bass grooves, but nothing terribly interesting happens. 'My Beautiful Leah' opens with a very strange deep electronic noise, Polly moans and matches the deep electronic bass groove, a keyboard line comes in, everything is off-putting, and at the end of the day, nobody remembers to bring along a tune to transform this into anything other than an interesting four minute experiment in texture. 'A Perfect Day Elise' on the other-hand is a fine song, was released as a single and although it probably isn't as joyous and exhilarating as 'Down By The Way' from 'To Bring You My Love', sure features a bunch of interesting percussion sounds in addition to  electronic bass grooves to hold everything together. 'Catherine' is a very quiet meditation, Polly half sings, half speaks and/or whispers. A further experimental piece in mood and texture, the music is almost ambient music. It's an interesting track, though.

    'Electric Light' begins the second half of the album in much the same quiet fashion the first half ended, but the feel of this song isn't quite as alluring as the relaxing and occasionally beautiful 'Catherine'. 'The Garden' sports a semi-industrial backdrop with added Piano, and well, this is a beautifully produced musical track with a soft Polly vocal and interesting lyrics. 'Joy' is even more industrial sounding, ugliness abounds amidst the programmed drums with a shouting impassioned Polly on vocals. Again, like several of the other songs on this album, this isn't a terribly obviously melodic song, although the sounds and machine-like texture of the music sounds interesting enough to keep you listening. 'The River' ditches the industrial sound textures for Piano and the entire song is totally gorgeous with Polly on absolute top notch vocal form, a mature and sensual vocal quite in contrast to her earlier works. Electronic noises return for 'No Girl So Sweet' and a more usual and biting Polly vocal, the closing title track is very minimal with Drums and Keyboard/Organ being pretty much the only instrumentation. Polly turns in another fine vocal performance though, and overall this is a fine album, although not as cohesive or consistent as 'To Bring You My Love'. <

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    Hal mutzpunter@yahoo.com
    A rating 7 does not enough justice to this brilliant album which is one of my all-time favorites. I think it is PJ's most original, diverse and accomplished work so far (I haven't listended to "Uh Huh Her" yet). But this is just my opinion. Its complexity requires repeated listenings. I'd rate it a 9 1/2 (not 10 because of "No Girl So Sweet" which I find wrongly placed). I'm not remotely as enthusiastic about "Stories..." as you are. It's not half as interesting and challenging as "Desire". I totally agree with your review of "Rid Of Me", though. Wrong producer!

    James herbertbobby@hotmail.com
    This is probably my favourite PJ Harvey album and I was a little hesitant at buying this because of reading Adrians review of it. It definately does not sound like anything she has done previously or since but it does sound very unique. It has dirty programmed beats and beautiful Piano songs with bluesy rock guitar. Best songs include the river, angelene and is this desire? which are undoubtedly 3 of her very best songs. It may throw some people off because of its experimental side which is a little like uh huh her, but the tunes that are actualy 'songs' are amazingly beautiful.

    Gazza gary.hess44@hotmail.com
    After "to bring you my love" pollys music and undeniable stage presence could have taken her straight to big arenas. however to her credit she opted to make a more experimental electronic record. Does it work ? Mostly - angelene is a typical opener , folky guitar , haunting melody just perfect, the sky lit up gives insight into how rid of me could have sounded with a producer who knew what he was doing . the wind features a ghostly narration and programmed sounds, very challenging . eloise is a great song frustratingly ending way too soon . catherine and electric light are sparse , demo like , built around simple keyboards lines. It actually doesnt sound like polly singing either. The river and the garden are the most sucessful of her new style while the title track features an amazing vocal from polly . Your first couple of listens make you feel uncertain - "where are the guitars" ? Then in time the record gets under your skin . joy,leah and no girl dont work however , ! all distorted farting bass sounds and jarring beats , its the kind of thing bjork has more sucess with . To sum up i dont listen to this one as much as the records on either side of it but it provides variety in her catalogue and shows that PJ is a true artist whos music always comes first. 8/10


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    Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea ( 2000 ) more best albums...
    Big Exit / Good Fortune / A Place Called Home / One Line / Beautiful Feeling / The Whores Hustle and The Hustlers Whore / This Mess We're In / You Said Something / Kamikaze / This Is Love / Horses In My Dreams / We Float

    Whoa!! I'll repeat that it case you missed it the first time. Whoa!! Now this is good stuff. I don't know what the hell happened, but suddenly Polly makes the album of her life. Well, so far at least. Forget the 'textures' and 'interesting' sound-scapes of 'Is This Desire', re-introduce some of the lo-fi nature of 'To Bring You My Love', add in an ever increasingly capable and powerful Polly vocally, and there you have it. 'Big Exit' may well hang entirely around a single guitar riff, but it does have other sections as well, and it just sounds so damn exciting and real. 'Good Fortune' is even better, simply a fabulous Rock song combining both Polly's best lyrics, best vocal and best 'tune'. All in the one song! The held notes on the last word of each line sung is fabulous, the melody is catchy, never obvious, but certainly something you'll hold onto, and once the song is over, want to listen to immediately again. Almost impossibly, 'A Place Called Home' is very nearly the match of 'Good Fortune', well played with crisp and great sounding guitar and another wonderful vocal performance this time with Polly adding harmonies over the top of herself, very beautiful harmonies as well. Since when did she get so good? This is glorious stuff. Not everything is as great across the whole album, unfortunately, preventing this record quite being 'perfect', but then, that leaves her somewhere to go, doesn't it? Certain groups have greatly extended their longevity by never making that one perfect statement. 'Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea' comes very close to being a perfect Polly Harvey record and statement, but not quite. Still, fourth song here 'One Line' is another 'good-un', and there you have the opening to this fifth PJ Harvey album proper. Difficult fifth album? No, sir! The following song 'Beautiful Feeling' is more enjoyable vocally than it is music wise though and 'The Whores Hustle, The Hustlers Whore' rather an obvious kind of PJ Harvey song, but still a good, exciting Rock song all the same.

    'The Mess We're In' is simply...... That's the wrong word. There is nothing simple about describing an utterly beautiful song that not only features Polly herself on the top of her game, but also features the vocals of a certain Thom Yorke of Radiohead fame, sounding as beautiful as he ever has on any Radiohead album, in case you're a fan of Radiohead. And! She gets him to sing this "Night and day, I dream of, making love to you now baby, lovemaking....." and it's simply..... AH!! That word 'simply' again. Let's just say this is good, ok? Ok. It's bloody great. 'You Said Something' has interesting guitar melodies, 'Kamikaze' is almost the kind of song that might have appeared on either of the first two PJ Harvey albums, but sounds better than any song from either, 'Dress' apart. 'This Is Love' has a great riff, 'Horses In My Dreams' is a little too obvious an indication of Polly's admiration for an inspiration of hers, Patti Smith, but it's still a decent song. Polly saves another absolute highlight til last. An eight minute long song of the type she's never quite done before, but like several other songs here, features such a beautiful and life-affirming Polly vocal, it almost beggars belief. A toast to Polly Harvey then? Absolutely, and here's to the next record!

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    gazza garyhess44@hotmail.com
    She just keeps getting better and better . You sense that with the last album polly really found her voice and realised what she wanted from music . This album is her most commercial work but every song stands out as something unique and special rather than a cynical move for more airplay. Adrians correct in pointing out the patti smith influence (also beefheart) and polly has followed the example of the artists that inspired her by concentrating on the integrity of her music above all else. Im certain we will all be enjoying great music from her for a long time.

    PeterLC Rotterdam
    I can't believe you rated this one so high. Polly was in love during the recording and that sadly shows in radio-friendly, toe-cringing love songs. She's at het best when she's in misery. I don't wish her misery on a personal level, but I do so on a musical level! I've actually sold my copy, I couldn't stand it wasting space on my shelf. But then, to each his own...

    Jason Oslo
    Oh man! Terrible review, this is the worst album of her career, what are you thinking?Reeks of over production and radio/public friendly sentiments, even the lyrics through-out this album are terribly weak compared to all the previous albums, and as our good friend Peter LC says....she was in love, says it all!Having seen her live 4 times during her early years, from Dry to To Bring You My Love albums, and witnessing the raw unadulterated simple power of these albums, personally I would only give this fussy and complicated album a 6. Sorry chaps!


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    Uh Huh Her 9 ( 2004 )
    The Life & Death Of My Badmouth / Shame / Who The Fuck? / Pocket Knife / The Letter / The Slow Drug / No Child Of Mine / Cat On The Wall / The Radio Oh Oh / You Come Through / It's You / The End / The Desperate Kingdom Of Love / The Darker Days Of Me & Him

    I didn't like it when I first played it. Didn't like it at all, thought it weak and definitely inferior not only to 'Stories From The City...' but inferior to almost everything she'd done. Suffice to say, i've changed my mind. This is an album that confirms Polly Harvey as an artist of rare stature. An album with an immense level of songwriting depth, songs that reach deep inside of the listeners heart and soul. It's an album with a variety of styles of songs, from visceral punk through to delicate and considered songs, performed in a much softer manner. Certain songs such as 'Who The Fuck' seem to return to an earlier era, when Polly's career was new and her music raw. 'You Come Through' returns PJ Harvey to the sound of 'To Bring You My Love', 'The Letter' is perhaps the most akin to her previous outing, and so on. Yet, in reality, this album is a departure for Polly. Not a huge departure, tried and trusted lyrical themes are woven and she hasn't reinvented herself, or anything like that. Just that this album has everything cut back. The music especially has been stripped back, back to its essence. Back to the blues? True, this is Polly Harvey's blues record. It's an album totally different in feel, if not exactly in style, to any of the albums that she's released before. This album may well be her masterpiece.

    Three quarters of the way through this record, an instrumental 'It's You' arrives that's nothing more than a mood piece, yet this is the kind of mood piece instrumental that might enhance a Tom Waits album. Polly deserves to now be mentioned in the same breath as either Tom Waits or Nick Cave, artists she IS often mentioned in the same breath with, actually. Only now, she's really just as good as either of the aforementioned artists. 'Cat On The Walk' has a delicious guitar groove, the opening and interestingly titled 'The Life & Death Of My Badmouth' absolutely grindingly intense. There are highlights all over the album. First single, 'The Letter' is one of the finest, most fascinating songs she's ever written. 'Shame' and 'The Radio Oh Oh' send shivers all over my body. I don't mean that in the sense that these songs are scary, rather just that they are so good, so brilliantly performed and written, that they really do send shivers all over me. We remember 'Four Track Demos', don't we? That was an album of the 'Rid Of Me' songs that many fans far preferred to the fully produced studio versions of the same songs. One of my favourite songs here is just Polly and acoustic guitar, a very simple song, yet incredibly affecting.

    So yes, 'Uh Huh Her' is the best Polly Harvey album so far. I doubted she could top 'Stories From The City...' or the best of her earlier material. Initial listenings to 'Uh Huh Her' brought me disappointment, simply because I expected something more obvious. Expected perhaps a watered down 'Stories From The City...', but happily, she's given us something far more rewarding, instead. An album that seems to be a retreat from the more commercial sounds of 'Stories...', yet does have approachable songs mixed in with other material harder to initially get into. Material ultimately more rewarding in the long-term. At Glastonbury, 2004, PJ Harvey was an absolute highlight. She stood out far above and beyond 90% of all of the other performers. A true artist, it's now twelve years since the release of her debut 'Dry' album. I'm now getting the feeling she'll easily be around for another twelve years as a truly important and special artist of the highest calibre.

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    gazza garyhess44@hotmail.com
    I dont agree adrian, i found uh huh her an underwhelming experience especially when we both know what shes capable of . I cant put my finger on it but much of the music seems incomplete and the album as a whole comes over as fragmented, after 3 albums of strong song sequences this seems a little strange. Polly plays all the instruments here apart from drums and that might account for how underdeveloped this sounds- i understand due to family illness she recorded most of the record in a local studio in the west country to be near her family , so i think we can put this one down as a stop gap. The 1st half of the record is very poor , the opening track lumbers along endlessly and bears no comparison to the awesome no exit which opened the previous album .who the fuck and the letter come over as tired pastiche of her own sound . the slow drug has nice keyboard loops but goes on way too long . shame and the campfire folk of pocket knife are ok nothing more. the 2! nd half is much better , polly finally inflates and expands her sound on the widescreen rock of radio oh oh , its you has a nice piano groove before becoming rid of me style rock ,cat in the well is strong and the 2 acoustic ballads at the end are beautiful and graceful candlelit folk and by far the best things here . But it doesnt hide the fact that 2 of the last 7 tracks here are seagull noise and noodling on a harmonium . To me this smacks of an artist on autopilot. Her blistering live shows at the time underline even more how pollys records dont even come close to showing how good she is , shes still an artist with a long way to go, an artist in foundation after all this time and we are very lucky to have her . 6/10


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    White Chalk ( 2007 )
    Devil / Dear Darkness / Grow Grow Grow / When Under Ether / White Chalk / Broken Harp / Silence / To Talk To You / Piano / Before Departure / Mountain

    You may be wondering if i'm a worthy judge of PJ Harvey albums, based on the fact I appear to be the only person in the known universe that really loved 'Uh Huh Her'. Continuing in such a vein then, initially I hated 'White Chalk'. It contains eleven quiet piano based songs and Polly sings them in an oddly quiet fashion. She croons, quietly. Appears to be auditioning for a something. Appears to be trying to sing 'properly', whatever that is. Musically, the album reflects Dorset, Polly's homeland. Lyrically, it appears to be a very personal set of songs. She plays Piano, not her normal instrument, in short repeating phrases. She croons and the space and air of deserted, open countryside is never far away from the mind. The title track in particular evokes the south-west of England and deserted lanes and fields. Her voice is way off in the distance, a single guitar softly strums nothing in particular. Half way through, harmonica, bass and drums arrive in no kind of hurry before the song switches back to beautiful minimalism. You could drown in this song, you really could. The album as a whole lasts a mere thirty three minutes across eleven songs. This works, any longer would be unnecessary, it really would. The album is just long enough not to repeat itself before it closes. 'Piano' is astonishing in that Polly appears to become a one woman Radiohead. Without any electronics, she still amazes lyrically and also seems to be several fields in front of the chasing pack. Well, KT Tunstall? Katie Melua? PJ, it's fair to say, is in a different league to these glossy, Q magazine approved, superstars.

    The ghostly, haunted nature of the LP continues throughout. There's nothing approaching radioplay or potential hits. Indeed, much of this is initially challenging. Take the closer, 'Mountain'. Polly ends up shrieking whilst bashing away at the same two keys on the piano. Thing is, the song has such an atmosphere. The atmosphere stays with you even if the specific melodies don't. That's not to say of course that the album lacks melodies. They are just simple and hidden away and so simple you don't notice them at first. The lead track, 'Devil' is a perfect example. A few notes, a few more notes, Polly sings the melody and never rises above a whisper except to emphasize the word come before commanding come, come here at once then quietly going back into the ether. Dynamics and melodies without having to errect a sign to point you towards them. 'When Under Ether' highlights the way a few short piano phrases, simple vocal melodies and arresting lyrical imagery can get you a long way. 'Broken Harp' ditches the music almost altogether, bar a delicious harp, for pure Polly Harvey. It's almost like she's creating her own, brand new form of folk music. Most impressive and beautiful on the whole it must be said, if never exactly an easy listen.

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    Readers Comments

    Mark Prindle mprindle@nyc.rr.com
    Great call on this one. When I saw your original post that you were only going to give it a 3, I thought, "Oh my God! Am I nuts? I LOVE this album!" But then you quickly came around and made me feel less like a guy with poor musical taste. This is a phenomenal comeback after "Uh Huh Her," which I really didn't like much at all. The only problem now is that I read your review before writing mine! What the hell am I going to SAY now?? I guess I could just talk about my dog.

    Jonathan Prout jonathan.prout@sjc.ox.ac.uk
    The whole album is fantastic - the best of the year, and I say this as a radiohead fan. Standout tracks are the title track and "the piano", but the whole album is spellbinding.

    GAZZA garyhess44@hotmail.com
    After the dissapointing "uh huh her" it was odds on that PJ would produce something outstanding and distinctive . She is one of modern musics few true geniuses and this album proves it , once again shes raised the bar and moved into new sonic and lyrical terrain . The songs here are spooked,raw,tender and disturbing , you dont have to be a genius to work out that pollys been through some heavy shit - one listen to "when under ether" will confirm this . Musically shes moved away from guitar based rock again and defined a new sonic landscape of mellotrons,banjos,harps and lots of pianos creating a kind of icy folk, in other places coming on like bjork produced by brian wilson . These invocations for the departed are not an easy listen and like all great art not likely to be admired by a wide audience . at little over half an hour some might feel shortchanged but you really cant measure something this intense in minutes. "white chalk"s gothic atmosphere makes you! think it was recorded in a attic full of cobwebs an empty rocking chair moving along in time . This albums exploration of a particularly female agony is destined to be remembered as a classic. 9.5/10


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    A Woman, A Man Walked By 8 ( 2009 )
    Black Hearted Love / Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen / Leaving California / The Chair / April / A Woman a Man Walked By-The Crow Knows Where All the Little Children Go / The Soldier / Pig Will Not / Passionless, Pointless / Cracks in the Canvas

    In 1996, PJ Harvey recorded an album called 'Dance Hall At Louse Point'. John Parish wrote the music and PJ wrote the lyrics. Thirteen years later the duo repeat the collaboration in much the same way although with markedly different results. 'A Woman, A Man Walked By' is a much stronger release than 'Dance Hall' was and although John Parish plays most of the instruments Polly Harvey's presence drifts over everything. Of course, this is a markedly different album to 'White Chalk' and largely guitar dominated, although Polly's uniquely atmospheric and dark Piano playing does mark a cameo appearence. So, no sweeping through the dark moors, 'A Woman, A Man Walked By' is more in your face, crashing through the doors of a country pub and making a mess, later getting arrested for disturbing the peace. Well, the lead single 'Black Hearted Love' is one of the least interesting things here but does at least announce that PJ is back with ROCK music this time out. Far more interesting is 'Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen', a rolling rhythm is created by strident acoustic before louder band sections intervene, the song keeping you in suspense deliciously.

    'Leving California' contains the dark mystery of PJ Harvey extremely well in a sparse setting whilst 'The Chair' gets out a bass guitar and 'rhythmics' you to death. The title track is akin to Polly doing a Nick Cave impersonation and we can do without that. 'Pig Will Not' is raw and screams inside your head whilst 'Passionless, Pointless' reminds one of the duet she did with Thom Yorke, 'The Mess We're In'. She sings this in her sweeter voice, the music is evocative and cinematic whilst also hardly even being there at times. On the whole, 'A Woman, A Man Walked By' naturally doesn't rank as the best PJ Harvey album, because John Parish has as much claim to this album as PJ does, if not more. It's not consistent all the way through yet for another dip into the mind of PJ, who wrote all the lyrics, we are extremely grateful.

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    Let England Shake ( 2011 )
    Let England Shake / The Last Living Rose / The Glorious Land / The Words That Maketh Murder / All and Everyone / On Battleship Hill / England / In the Dark Places / Bitter Branches / Hanging in the Wire / Written on the Forehead / The Colour of the Earth

    Polly teams up again with Mick Harvey and John Parish, continues to sing in that high 'White Chalk' register, pens an album about England and War and continues, essentially, to be bloody awkward. The music is far away and on first glance, very samey across the twelve tracks. Her voice is often encased in echo as are the guitar parts. No flowing or biting guitar rock here - rather strumms and patterns and feels. Additional instrumentation (mellotron, horns, xylophone, etc) bring out different textures. Initially this doesn't seem a happy album but then again, penning lyrics about war and death and sounding like a ghost.... was it going to be upbeat? That doesn't actually make it a dour listen, though. Repeated listens reveal the melodies to be subtle and free and the band either under-rehearsed (if being exceptionally cruel) or rather more positively, wonderfully organic. It gets better with every single listen and i'm on about my 16th listen, there's always more to discover, new hidden bonus features within the songs themselves, if you like. In short, 'Let England Shake' is absolutely stunning.

    Polly never wants to repeat herself and if you look back at the albums she's previously released, she very rarely does. So, whilst superficially 'Let England Shake' may seem a cousin to 'White Chalk', lyrically and musically it does something quite different. The caribbean steel drums of the title track, the saxophone of 'The Last Living Rose', a first for PJ Harvey as she's never played the instrument on record before. She's started playing the harp and numerous other instruments, always looking for something to add to her repitoire. 'The Glorious Land' features hip-shaking rhythms and a vocal style reminiscent of Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins and/or Siouxsie of Banshees fame. Her vocals are light and airy for most of the songs on the album, perhaps almost divorcing herself from the lyrical content - this isn't an album about her, after all. The words stand, her voice often sounds incredibly beautiful and occasionally joining up vocally with the male members of her band works too - the almost hynmal 'The Colour Of The Earth', for instance.

    'England' features a snatch of an Iraqi love song married to Polly's own love song, of sorts. 'Bitter Branches' is the rockiest song here, offering welcome musical contrast. 'Written On The Forehead' meanwhile expertly mixes in a reggae song which kind of becomes interwoven with Polly's song til they are the same song. This is an album about England in one sense then but in another it contains many worldwide elements. Oh, those steel drums that appear during 'Let England Shake'? Some may recall PJ previewing this track live before Gordon Brown on a British politics show. Then, it was a sampled track from a song 'Istanbul (Not Constantinople)' which she played atop and wove into her own song. That song is still here, albeit represented musically and transported to steel drums. Worldwide, inspired or short on musical inspiration? Well, actually, just truly inspired. She listened to an awful lot of music, took advice from the late, great Captain Beefheart of who she was a personal friend (he liked 'Uh Huh Her', top man!) and came out with 'Let England Shake', possibly her finest set to date.

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    Readers Comments

    Pedro
    A great review here, best I've seen for Let England Shake. Certainly her best in my opinion, and I'm glad your rankings indicates you agree.


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    this page last updated 24/07/11


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