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An Introduction to PJ Harvey

December 18, 2010

PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey has done so much that I don’t believe it is possible for someone not to like at least some of her work, in much the same way that it is not possible to like everything she has done. I am personally quite skeptical about 1993’s muddled and abrasive Rid of Me and I still can’t listen to her latest album,White Chalk, which is just plain weird. So, if you have listened to just one or two songs or albums and you decided you don’t like her, you might well be wrong! Try again! 🙂

PJ Harvey – C’mon Billy

I’ve picked two songs for you: C’mon Billy and A Perfect Day Elise from the albums To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire? respectively. To me, these two albums are the best produced, along with the Mercury prize winning Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea. These are the most accessible, unlike the earlier albums (Dry and Rid of Me) which can sometimes appear too dark or too harsh and which you have to listen to a few times before you can actually hear them.

If you don’t know it already, PJ Harvey is one of your fellow countrywomen. She was born in Dorset. Her music can be described as rock; raw and unabashed. Her early albums were recorded with just guitars, vocals and drums. The ones I’m recommending are a bit more complex.

To Bring You My Love came out in 1995 and was very well received. Rolling Stone magazine claimed it was “astonishing… a true, enduring piece of art”. This album blends acoustic folky (I kinda want to say countryish) songs, very accessible (C’mon Billy, Send His Love To Me, The Dancer) with raw and dark rock (listen to the album’s title track). The music is far more complex than on the previous albums, for instance she somehow manages to includes a classical organ and make it sound rock. In this album, PJ Harvey masters her voice like she never had before. Sometimes, she sings so low that you wonder whether she’s not a man (Teclo or I Think I’m a Mother).

PJ Harvey – A Perfect Day Elise

1998’s Is This Desire? is a quieter album, it is sort of muted, calmer and I guess more melodic (Angelene, The River, The Garden) than what was written before. Keyboards, electronics and bass replace the raw guitars. It’s my favorite. PJ Harvey said herself: “I do think Is This Desire? is the best record I ever made—maybe ever will make—and I feel that that was probably the highlight of my career. I gave 100 per cent of myself to that record. Maybe that was detrimental to my health at the same time.”

Generally, PJ Harvey’s lyrics aren’t about her personal life but she manages to make them sound real and engrossing anyhow. When you hear PJ Harvey sing “I was born in the desert, I’ve been down for years”, you believe her: she plays the part like an actor would on stage. Her singing is not just singing, it is acting. This becomes clear when you see her live: she likes to dress up and is also prone to changing her appearance and her style (as well as her sound) each time she writes a new album (see pictures above).

Anyway, PJ Harvey is writing a new album and you all know what that means: a tour is forthcoming, as well as festivals over the summer, and… and… and GLASTONBURY! Cross your fingers for me!

Because the two songs I’ve included don’t reflect quite so much PJ Harvey’s “raw” rock that I mentioned above, I’m posting a video that does: a fantastic live version of Dress, the debut single from her 1992 debut album Dry. Enjoy!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Robbie Bizzle permalink
    December 20, 2010 11:26 pm

    I thought twice about PJ Harvey, and I still didn’t like her. But on your recommendation I’ve listened to “Is This Desire?” and I must (somewhat grudgingly (although I’m not sure why)) admit I quite like it! Where to next?

  2. Chris Bingo permalink
    December 21, 2010 9:25 pm

    Nice introduction! I will endeavour to give her a second listen as I’ve heard bits I like and bits I don’t like over the years. She will certainly get added the growing list of music I shall be enjoying over the Christmas and New Year period!

  3. Athénaïs permalink
    December 22, 2010 10:54 pm

    Yeay! Mission accomplished!

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