Friday, September 28, 2007

a heartbreaking work of staggering genius

Note the use of lower case. I'm not talking about the pretentious Dave Eggers novel, rather it's the most fitting way to describe the new PJ Harvey album, White Chalk.

It is, in my opinion, the finest album she has ever produced. It is stark, it is gothic and it is relentlessly downbeat, but it has an incredible sense of focus and she sounds very assured in her new sound. At just 34 minutes, there is not an ounce of fat here, not one track outstays its welcome nor do you find yourself thinking "well this could have been left off the record" (Tori Amos take note).

I was slightly overzealous in saying earlier that there was no guitar on this record. There is both bass and acoustic guitar but they are not the main focus by any means. A crazy array of instruments are listed on the sleeve notes, zither, banjo, mellotron, broken harp, even a wine glass. The lyrics are dark, twisted and beautiful, for the most part delivered in the higher range of her voice. For me the outstanding track is "The Piano". I was listening to the song on my iPod walking to work and it took me by surprise. The start of the song, she seems to be talking about someone she killed with a hammer. Suddenly out of nowhere, she sings "oh god I miss you" over and over with the most beautiful swell of music behind it. I actually welled up walking along listening to it.

I cannot wait to see her in concert tomorrow night now.

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