PJ Harvey is a musical chameleon, reinventing herself with every album, resulting in early assertions that she was the ‘indie Madonna’. However the Dorset-born musician’s transformations from file to file quickly made comparisons to the mighty Madge appear short-sighted. Probably the most cursory examination of her catalogue reveals early ragged indie recordings, experimentation with tone and electronics, uncooked and uncovered 4-track and demo recordings, English people songs, Gothic chamber pop and her current multi-instrumental forays into the historical past of battle.
Compiling a worst to greatest listing for an artist who fully rewires her sound from album to album is a problem, with many followers having very robust causes for figuring out with one iteration of her storied profession over one other. One factor that’s for sure is that Polly Jean Harvey is likely one of the best, most idiosyncratic artists England has ever produced. She is a nationwide treasure and with out her, the panorama of recent British music would appear a a lot much less adventurous place.
9. Is This Need? (1998)
With the best respect, we would must get right into a tussle with Ms Harvey on the first hurdle. The singer as soon as instructed The Telegraph “I do assume Is This Need? is the most effective file I ever made—perhaps ever will make—and I really feel that that was most likely the spotlight of my profession.” In actuality, doubling down on the atmospheric temper items based mostly round keyboards, bass and electronics which had been so profitable on earlier album To Carry You My Love usually left for lumpen outcomes (witness, the absolutely mockingly titled Pleasure).
Assembled over the course of two lengthy studio periods with nearly a 12 months’s hole between them, the album feels uneven and disjointed. Including to the incoherence was Harvey’s exhaustion from the To Carry You My Love cycle and the emotional fallout from the collapse of a quick, stormy love affair with Nick Cave.
Is This Need? is a sometimes fearless leap into new territory, but it surely’s little marvel that Harvey has not returned to this sound within the 24 years therefore.
8. Uh Huh Her (2004)
After her largest business success, with 2000’s Tales from the Metropolis, Tales from the Sea, it appeared that Harvey wasn’t totally snug within the place she discovered herself. She subsequently defined to Time Out journal that she “wished to get again to the earthy, rootsy, extra soiled facet of issues” following her brush with the mainstream. Consequently, Uh Huh Her feels prefer it’s attempting to antagonise and confront the listener, however as a rule, her sixth studio set comes throughout as a bunch of unfinished, rushed concepts (notably unusual contemplating there was a 4-year hole between albums).
Written throughout a interval of enforced inventive isolation, Harvey recorded and performed each instrument on the album (bar drums, dealt with by long-time collaborator Rob Ellis), which lends the album a DIY-aesthetic that doesn’t all the time go well with the songs. The scuzzy storage rock of Who the Fuck? sounds reedy and skinny, a pale imitation of the acerbic music she made her title with. The Determined Kingdom of Love, nonetheless, is crucial.
7. The Hope Six Demolition Challenge (2016)
There’s a typical theme with the inserting of those first three albums on this countdown; all three got here off the again of very profitable and critically acclaimed albums in Harvey’s profession. The idea of her ninth album is intriguing, with Harvey drawing inspiration from time spent with photographer/filmmaker Seamus Murphy in poverty-stricken areas in Washington D.C., Kosovo and Afghanistan. In consequence, like its predecessor, it’s an album that appears outwards reasonably than inwards, with Harvey adopting an observational lyrical strategy reasonably than private.
This strategy is okay in concept, besides it’s not totally clear what Harvey is attempting to say on The Hope Six Demolition Challenge, with its fractious vignettes by no means managing to discover a stable conceptual entire. Thematic musical motifs corresponding to saxophone squalls, call-and-response choruses and male vocals add some sense of an overarching theme, however they by no means converge to create something cohesive. However perhaps that’s the purpose: perhaps confusion is the one logical response to the issues that Harvey noticed, as she endeavours to make sense out of issues that merely don’t make sense.
6. Dry (1992)
Harvey’s seething, acerbic debut, Dry has misplaced little of the affect it had when unleashed on an unsuspecting public again in March 1992. PJ Harvey (very a lot a band at this level alongside drummer Rob Ellis and bassist Steve Vaughan) arrived totally fashioned, even when the recordings sounded somewhat tough across the edges.
The music on Dry twisted and convulsed in response to Harvey’s withering lyrics, notably on the confrontational Crops and Rags and Pleased and Bleeding, switching from need to violence on a dime. Singles Costume and Sheela-Na-Gig added a playful high quality while being no much less abrasive, these two future classics dedicated to tape when Harvey was simply 22.
In brief, PJ Harvey entered the musical panorama with one of the vital daring debuts in current reminiscence. Critics and followers responded in variety, with NME rating Dry amongst its all-time best 100 albums only one 12 months after its launch and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain famously hailing it as certainly one of his favorite information.
5. Rid of Me (1993)
Following a label bidding battle which resulted within the trio signing to Island, Harvey hand-picked Steve Albini to file her second album, decided to maintain issues uncooked, ragged and edgy while bringing out the harsher features which may have been tempered on Dry. It was a match made in heaven, the dynamics of the title monitor instantly benefitting from Albini’s recording methods.
Booked right into a secluded Minnesota studio for 2 weeks in the course of winter, the band and producer had been fully remoted from the surface world, leading to an depth that’s captured on tape. (Albini would revisit the studio in February ’93 to file In Utero with Nirvana.) Launched simply 14 months after Dry, Rid of Me improved on nearly each side of Harvey’s debut, but it surely confirmed different sides to the musician too, with Missed being maybe her most tender second up up to now. Rid of Me is an astounding piece of artwork, however what Harvey would go on to do as a solo artist was one thing no-one may have ready for.
4. Let England Shake
On her eighth album, Harvey inhabits the spirit of battle correspondent, ploughing hours of labor into researching the historical past of battle. The important thing to Let England Shake is that at no level does Harvey inform us what to really feel, however we inevitably come to our personal conclusions.
The opening cry of ‘Goddam’ Europeans!’ on the wonderful The Final Residing Rose hides many alternative shades of subtext, particularly in a post-Brexit Britain. Harvey adopted autoharp on a number of songs as a way to preserve her compositions contemporary, an strategy that works wonders on The Phrases That Maketh Homicide and All and Everybody. She additionally adopted a distinct fashion of singing, affecting a haunted warbling ghostly cry which is especially efficient on England.
Let England Shake was voted the most effective album of the 12 months in 16 completely different publications on the finish of 2011 and it received Harvey her second Mercury Prize (to at the present time, she stays the one artist to have received two). Harvey would proceed the battle narrative on her subsequent album The Hope Six Demolition Challenge, however Let England Shake is her most provocative and warranted work on the topic.
3. Tales from the Metropolis, Tales from the Sea (2000)
Tales from the Metropolis, Tales for them Sea is PJ Harvey’s love letter to a New York that now not exists, capturing because it does the hustle and bustle of The Massive Apple pre 9/11. Harvey completely captures the confusion and chaos of town on opening tune Massive Exit, however elsewhere you get a way that her 9 month escape to New York was reconditioning for the soul.
A number of songs appear to depict a romantic relationship (Good Fortune, Stunning Feeling, the great You Mentioned One thing) with the Manhattan skyline being as intrinsic a personality as Harvey’s lover. After the tough, disturbing sounds she conjured for To Carry You My Love and Is This Need?, Harvey wished to create one thing lush, luxurious and delightful, and this album stays her most commercially accessible so far. It’s additionally certainly one of her greatest.
2. White Chalk (2007)
Harvey’s seventh studio album is a Victoriana gothic masterpiece, her most haunting, chilling and quiet album so far. Composed primarily round piano, an instrument Harvey had by no means performed earlier than, the melodies are eerie lullabies, easy ditties that sound timeless. Many of the songs may have been composed on the flip of the twentieth century, not to mention the flip of the twenty first.
Harvey sounds damaged, a destitute Miss Havisham on the likes of The Satan, When Beneath Ether and The Piano, whereas the array of voices that conclude Silence is just one of the vital chilling and delightful issues she has ever recorded. Highlights are plentiful however White Chalk is at its greatest when consumed as a complete, like one deep, darkish look into a girl’s psyche. Simply Harvey’s most under-rated album, it’s about time White Chalk was re-appraised.
1. To Carry You My Love (1995)
PJ Harvey’s first main re-invention additionally proved to be her most profitable and alluring. Aiming to jot down her personal variations of the blues requirements and Captain Beefheart songs she had beloved for years, Harvey re-emerged within the public eye with what she referred to as her “Joan Crawford on Acid” look smeared on her face.
The biblical lyrical references giving a way of the grandiose, To Carry You My Love interweaves a seductive mix of temper and melodrama. Inside this framework, Harvey sings of crossing desert plains, borders and oceans and laying with the satan while cursing God above. To Carry You My Love feels harmful, malevolent and sometimes downright disturbing. Even the large MTV hit Down by the Water revolves spherical a sinister whispered chorus: “Little fish, massive fish, swimming within the water / Come again right here man, gimme my daughter.”
The dwell exhibits modified too, with Harvey usually rising in elegant ball robes, made as much as the nines and with theatrical props in tow, a far cry from the uncooked and ragged Steve Albini authenticity of the Rid of Me period. Basically, To Carry You My Love is the second that this most compelling artist turned no matter she wished to be.