Monday, September 24, 2007

Oh Ms Harvey, you crazy

I love me some PJ. I got into her way back in 1993 when you couldn't move 50 yards in any direction without coming across an advert for this.

I had no idea who she was and a friend had bought the album so I borrowed it from him. There are not many albums I can truly describe as being life altering, but Rid Of Me is one of them. It blew my tiny mind. To this day, I count it among my favourite albums of all time.

With that album, she was still critically adored but resolutely not mainstream. While she sold ok numbers and could fill your average concert hall, she never really troubled the radio or the charts. And that was fine with me. Her next release saw her fanbase increase and To Bring You My Love was the first time I saw her perform live.

It was, to be brutally honest, average. I was so excited and was right at the front but it wasn't quite the sum of its parts. I still went back when she veered off into the experimental with Dance Hall At Louse Point.

The only gigs performed for this were with a dance troupe in tow. I can't remember the name of the troupe but they put together a dance piece to the whole album and PJ with her band performed the songs while the dancers danced. Neither the dance piece nor the album were well received but I loved it, even if when I saw that gig I was frightened for her as she was so clearly anorexic at the time.

The physical and psychological effects of that illness manifested themselves on her next release, Is This Desire?.

Bleak and desolate, it's the wrong side of no fun at all and it's the album I listen to least. It still has some outstanding stuff on it, but to listen to as a whole, it's a tough call.

A scant two years later, and the mainstream success that had up to this point eluded her came rushing in.

Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea is easily her masterpiece, with awards and plaudits in no short supply. Furthermore, the tour that followed saw a relaxed, happy and healthy (and scarily resembling Liz Hurley) PJ clearly enjoying herself for the first time in a very long time. I went to both London dates and was awestruck both nights. I also remember being highly amused when she forgot the words to "Down By The Water" and had a fit of giggles mid song. When it was over she simply said "well I don't know what happened there".

But greater things, gig wise, were to come. If I thought i was seeing someone on the top of their game then, well more fool me. In the lead up to releasing Uh Huh Her, PJ Harvey was the first artist to perform a concert at Tate Modern. I went to that concert and was simply astonished at how much better she had become since the last time I'd seen her. Later that summer, she performed two outdoor gigs that were even more astounding. The first one, in particular, I remember feeling so fucking lucky to witness it. Genius.

So it was a shame that the album didn't live up to those gigs and was a little Mmm Hmm Blah. Drawing heavily on what was presumably a nasty break up with Nick Cave (several songs could be retitled "In Your FACE, Cavey") something feels like it's missing from the album as a whole, but I don't know what. And it's a real shame that the exuberantly and joyous live performance of "Who The Fuck?" is not present on the lifeless studio cut. Again, I don't hate the album and a recent re-listen proved it's actually getting better with age. But still.

And now? Today saw the UK release of her 9th original studio album. For her entire career, her sound has been guitar driven. White Chalk pulls a most spectacular volte face and doesn't contain a single guitar.

It's a very spooky and chilly album. The fact that on the front cover she looks like she is auditioning for the sadly non existent third season of Carnivale is no mistake. I need to listen to it properly before I can review it in any depth but on a first listen, I was glad it was a brief 34 minutes. It's very intense and any longer would perhaps be too much.

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