There are few artists around today who achieve the rare feat of sustaining a long career, sounding fresh and vital throughout, and continuing to attain a degree of commercial success. PJ Harvey can count herself as numbering amongst this rare breed, an artist who has recorded a diverse range of albums, reinventing herself along the way which in turn keeps her audience on their toes, one of the key ingredients for longevity in the fickle world of music.
Harvey's musical output has encompassed the raw (Dry), the confrontational (Rid of Me), the musically rich (Is This Desire) and the conventional (Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea). After embarking on a journey characterized by diversity, she arrives today sounding like, well, PJ Harvey, a woman who has pushed herself in many directions but whose essence remains undiluted, an amazingly talented musician, lyricist, and performer. This album sounds in many ways like an amalgamation of her previous work. To some that would be heresy, certain critics expecting artists to create a brand new sound with every album, those who don't consigned to the scrapheap of irrelevance in this alternative world where every sound must be previously unheard and obtuseness is prized above the ability to craft a memorable melody.
This shouldn't give you the impression that PJ Harvey is merely trotting out a revised version of her greatest hits. Some songs certainly bear the hallmark of classic tracks from yesteryear, although they tend to be twisted slightly so that nothing here sounds stale. "The Life and Death of Mr Badmouth," for example, strikes a typical balance between power and melody, but bubbling synth flourishes and striking backing vocals set it off on a new tangent. "Who The Fuck" has echoes of the full frontal assault of the Rid Of Me album, but if anything, it sounds even rawer than that, reminiscent of the 4 Track Demos which accompanied that release, the guitar line brutal in its simplicity, irrepressibly memorable at the same time.
As always with P J Harvey, the quality is high all the way through, but there are two tracks which are particularly striking, stunning in their sonic inventiveness. "The Slow Drug" is underpinned by a haunting synth, Polly harmonizing with herself, hypnotizing the listener to mesmerizing effect. "You Come Through" is more astonishing still, the synth line this time Oriental in sound and rhythm, the listener being transported to a Far Eastern daydream world, an unfamiliar place where traditional narrative has been lost in translation. "The Desperate Kingdom of Love," meanwhile, is stark in its simplicity, a spiritual ambience conjured from no more than six strings and a lilting vocal.
Polly Harvey ploughs a furrow all of her own, oblivious to trends, music her inspiration. There can be very few musicians around today who truly merit the severely overused epiphet of genius. To my mind, this woman is without doubt one of the deserving few.
1. The Life and Death of Mr Badmouth
3. Who the Fuck?
4. The Pocket Knife
5. The Letter
6. The Slow Drug
7. No Child of Mine
8. Cat on the Wall
9. You Come Through
10. It's You
11. The End
12. The Desperate Kingdom of Love
13. The Darker Days of Me & Him