Music Monday: The Divine Ms. Harvey

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 4/250

Continuing on with the quest to listen to the 250 most acclaimed albums  has led me to one of only three female artists to have multiple entries into this list; PJ Harvey. If I had opened up this up to the entire list of 3000 albums (which would be too much of a mountain to climb straight away) I would have had the pleasure of listening to all eight of her solo albums (with two of them falling not too far outside the first 250).

ToBringYouMyLoveTitle: To Bring You My Love
Artist: PJ Harvey
Year: 1995
Position: #174 (Previously: #195)

Regarded by  many as PJ Harvey’s best album (and by me as her fourth) To Bring You My Love is, in a number of ways, her darkest album. It marked her first truly solo album after splitting with the two band mates that accompanied her on previous albums Dry and Rid of Me.

The song that most people will know from this album is the opening single ‘Down By The Water’. In this song she describes a woman giving birth to a baby girl underneath a bridge and the subsequent drowning of this child. In many ways this a darker and angrier tale of birth than ‘When Under Ether’ which would appear on her 2007 release White Chalk.

What To Bring You My Love was able to demonstrate that was not seen as much in her previous releases was PJ Harvey’s ability to completely change image and direction; an ability that, just like contemporay Björk, has allowed her to have a long and continually acclaimed career. Instead of the punk-infused songs of relationships she cut her teeth on Harvey delved deeper into loss, religious imagery and electronic music. Most of the songs still dealt with relationships in some way or another but communicated using the mediums of Spanish guitar (‘Send His Love To Me’), distortion (‘Long Snake Moan’) and a stomping, pumping bassline (‘Meet Ze Monsta’).

LetEnglandShakeTitle: Let England Shake
Artist: PJ Harvey
Year: 2011
Position: #166 (Previously: #232)

Okay, I am a bit sad that listening to my two favouite PJ Harvey albums again won’t count towards this goal (although listening to Stories From The City, Stories From The City and White Chalk is never time wasted) but albums number three and four isn’t too bad.

Let England Shake is an important album in the PJ Harvey canon for a number of reasons. It marked her becoming the only person to win the prestigious Mercury Prize twice, it continued her voice experimentation from White Chalk, it is the closest she has ever come to producing a protest album (since whilst it is clearly anti-war it is remarkably understated) and is a rather edged love letter to England.

If you decide to investigate the PJ Harvey back catalogue based on this album, as many did, you are likely to be shocked since it sounds like nothing she has done before. Rather than the outspoken singer she adopts more of a roll of a narrator (which is apparently why she chose to sing in this higher register). It went to prove that 20 years into her career there is still a lot of innovation still to occur in what is considered the PJ Harvey sound.

The album itself is easily taken as a whole but if songs were to be singled out you have to admire the cutting lyrics of ‘The Glorious Land’ where she states that the fruit of our land are deformed and orphaned children. ‘Written On Their Forehead’ works with the refrain of “let it burn/let it burn, burn, burn” as she describes the scarring of a city as the Western tanks roll in. The there is the titular track sung to the backing of ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ which to this day I remember her playing as then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown was on The Andrew Marr Show.

Next Week: Having spend the first four albums in the recent decades it’s time to go back, to when the first albums were being released. To the fifties!


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