Uh Huh Her
PJ Harvey, Island, 2004
PJ Harvey is amongst the most successful one-woman band (she plays everything in this particular album except for the drum) with more than half a dozen albums, discography of a lifetime talent. Harvey’s gone solo since her band has dismembered in 1993, soon after Rid of Me hit the market. She has known for her eclectic taste in music making. Somewhere between blues, punk, rock, and yes, grunge, Polly Jean Harvey is no ordinary riot grrrl (if the naming suits you) you ought to find in some music channels and indietronic corners. For the past few years, she has cast herself as a Brit singer/songwriter whose works were harshly referenced to poetic dark archives. Aside of her eccentricity in extreme quietness, people often associates her with the image of evil raven head. That she’s wicked, twisted, dark, and is tormented. Rubbish. Uh Huh Her is comprised of a full-length melancholy intensifying raw repeated riffs and throaty-vocal verses where howling chorus, and quick-halted ending are nothing more than confirmed notions. Her prowess on minimalist arrangement, depending on merely four-track or eight-track home studio, keyboards, and drum machine is paraded through all the songs, everything is wholeness. She produced, recorded, and mixed the record on her own (with Mr. Head) and claimed it was one of the hardest but justifiable journey. I find it noteworthy. I’ve never seen a record that is so moving, so easy to go with, this 14-track lo-fi sort.
There’s something diverting about the songsmith itself. When you perceive her raw quality as the beguiling charm of the uncompromising, unconventional way to speed over the great routes, creatively building a PJ Land for the sake of immediacy and singularity, as she hits the notes unintentionally, you may feel she’s a complete sourpuss. Well, she’s not. Every song is conceptual, finely structured, lyrically stunning, all is done with careful compelling melodic sense. The moment I listen to the first track, I’m swooned. And I’m not even listening to Jazz or anything like that. General misconception of her darkness awe-struck me in the depth of crystallizing moment of–hopefully to result in–exactness (a little drama with vocabulary, please) as I try to define her work. There I realized, I was never once depressed listening to PJ Harvey. I’ve never seen her as a tormented artist. She’s just painfully talented. So I guess, it is fair to say, it is just, that this sixth album is not the soundtrack of an enraged sorceress’ late night tale as is widely suggested.
This is mental. She’s settled.
The album opens with a humble Ballad of “The Life and Death of Mr. Bad Mouth”. The edgy string sounds deflowers every word she said. Harvey sings in lower register followed by guitar riffs impersonating her voice. Not everyday you could see a simple work’s complex. The gritty plot governs an easy transition when she pulls off the angular guitar slides on,
“Your lips taste of poison”.
In this rather playful, facetious song she’s still posing the ideal of polite restraint. Chords change swiftly that you won’t even notice the modulation, each tonality to another. The first song is just seconds away from the next. Sometimes I thought they were played in medley, with compartment silence. In “Shame”, she squeals, teetering from bar to bar relentlessly, framed with single-note keyboards. “Who the Fuck” is a vitriolic mind-numbing rant with grubbier guitar sounds. Having her throat strangled down in anger, as if it was the last stand of defense against her…
It reminds me of how fresh she can always sound in her choice of theme (repeatedly). “Pocket Knife” sets forth a whispering blues with some organic percussions and tambourine, results in a subtle traditional version of an amazingly lo-fi track throughout the entire album. “The Letter” is my personal favorite. I love the undeniably sexy syncopation. Heed to the guitar as it paused, temporary stoppage. With the blues-punk riffs and her infamous she-wolf howling, it matches most of her previous work in Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. However, the song gets off with mixed results. It is adjudged lackluster, to some. Fast forward to “The Slow Drug”. There’s something really wrong with this song. Unidentified nuance secretly slips through your head, radiates strong emotional dissociation, dislocation as the far-flung electronic hypnotic keyboards sounds infiltrates, cited disturbance with no sense of start/end. A slow pacing rhythmic, like a tiny dot in the horizon grew larger in gradual curiosity. “No Child of Mine” is a good one-minute acoustic ballad, a bit country-tinged, saying she doesn’t have enough time to hate or love. “Cat on the Wall” is rather a classic PJ. An ex-boyfriend and a song. Bad combination, enter the cloudy day. I think she tries to fight the feeling by saying “…turn up the Radio…” out loud, ’til she can’t take the ‘legendary’ song anymore. Challenging. Not my favorite. But there’s a courageous chorus there. “You Come Through” would be my second choice if I have to put everything on a row. The song’s half-baked contemporary set of keyboards and tribal-sounding percussion is captivating, careful. I could tell you that the pulsating beat begins to slow in “You Come Through”, “It’s You”, and “The End”, where she dares to be tender, not having a single detour on raw conviction. The harrowing intro from “It’s You” lingers a little more than it should you think it’s going to be a piano song. A quieter tune disguises the manifest anger until she plugs on the machine, switching on the heavy swagger, mournful guitar, combines with the breathless gasp and growl interchangeably. Like a serious open discussion towards an incessant obsession, the song asserts the position that is hers, not only as the person who calls God into question, as she rifles through His drawer,
“But I go missing. I steal away.
And I go kissing. In the alleyway
All I want to do. And all I want to grow up to be is all caught up with you
Look what you’re doing to me...”
But also as the one in legitimate need,
“When I’m not with you my dreams are so very dark
When I’m not with you I dream of my hair falling out
When I’m not with you I walk dark tunnels of my heart
When I’m not with you everything comes apart.”
The ultimate question is clearly delineated in the end.
“The Desperate Kingdom of Love” is a romantic folk ballad where you can picture yourself sit about and listen to her playing her guitar down by the tree (oh wow, so hippy-go-yucky). But I love this song. It’s kind of romantic when she lulls. The chords melt into a tune that is much darker, given frequent listen. What makes her works stand out so persistently irresistible is that she seems to feel her music more than anyone possibly do. That kind of passion is rare these days.
As the end approaches, “The Darker Days of Me & Him” beautifully serves as a great closing song, just like a cold good night. Slow medicine penetrates into your veins, eyes closed, all tissues swelled within, fatten out your head (not in the shoegaze way) with beautiful keys and string composition washed in echoes. We’re off the shore.