Thursday, December 20, 2007
Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2007: Number 11
In the International Year Of The Female Singer-Songwriter there were still few as abrasive or as willing to scare the listener or bring them out in goosebumps rather than caress them as much as Polly Jean Harvey can with just a guitar as her weapon. Except... no. The pristine Victoriana of the cover was one thing - from DMs to the pink catsuit to the Spice Girls dress of her last Glastonbury, Polly has always been keen on matching her present self to a look - the fact the whole of her eighth collection centres on Harvey's apprentice abilities on piano quite another. In truth, Harvey has often reacted against the sound and circumstances of her previous work - the wrecking ball Rid Of Me followed by the baroque To Bring You My Love, the atmospheric Is This Desire followed by the glamorous Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, then Uh Huh Her's abrasiveness, and now after what Harvey has referred to as a difficult period surrounding that album a retreat back to Dorset and a room overlooking its cliffs. What she carved out there is an album for late night moments alone with nothing but your own being to consider, if you don't mind being on a near-oppressive downer.
Harvey has never been particularly happy-go-lucky, but there's something really amiss here if we read these words as life gospel, something she's never been publicly keen on as an interpretation, but even so you could just quote lyrics in context all day and end up feeling very worried for her. Using a voice for the most part a higher register than her usual fire and brimstone, there's a theme throughout of desolation, despair born of fragility and desire for love and/or belonging. When Under Ether was the single, presumably after a lucky dip, being a story about lying in hospital knowing "something's inside me unborn and unblessed/Disappears in the ether, this world to the next", and on the very next (title) track "Dorset's cliffs meet at the sea/Where I walked our unborn child in me". Broken Harp? Opening lyrics: "Please don't reproach me for how empty my life has become". To Talk To You opens "Oh grandmother, how I miss you/Under the earth, wish I was with you", chiming with penultimate track Before Departure's withdrawl message to friends and lifestyle. The Piano, seemingly about a family falling apart, starts "Hit her with a hammer, teeth smashed in" and climaxes with wails of "oh god I miss you". You get the picture. Ending with a virtually primal wail over pounding keys it's clearly not much fun as a listening experience and by the end of a wrenching nearly 34 minutes it's almost cruel to suggest that this is a hauntingly great album cataloguing not such great feelings. A word of advice, though - this isn't the PJ Harvey album to start your collection with.
LISTEN ON: Silence
WATCH ON: The Piano
My favourite album of 2007 is...
Dev Hynes, Lightspeed Champion: Fall Out Boy - Infinity On High