Thursday, May 28, 2009

May 28: PJ Harvey, "Rid Of Me"

Artist: PJ Harvey
Album: Rid Of Me
Year: 1993
Label: Island

Though there were a number of talented females to emerge out of the "singer/songwriter" boom of the early 1990's, most of them were "girl and acoustic guitar" or "girl and piano." For the most part, these women were more on the soft-spoken side, but also tended to have deep messages of love and frustration. Then, there was Polly Jean Harvey. With a far more aggressive sound, both musically and lyrically, PJ Harvey remains in a category all on her own. Taking the helm of one of the most brilliant, though shortlived, musical trios ever, the music of PJ Harvey remains a huge influence to this day. Though her debut album, Dry, is a fantastic record in its own right, it is her sophomore effort, 1993's Rid Of Me on which she truly focuses her sound and style with phenomenal results.

The original lineup of PJ Harvey's trio featured Rob Ellis on drums and Steve Vaughn on bass, with Harvey herself handling all of the guitar duties. The chemistry between the three is undeniable, yet the two men would leave the group shortly after the release of Rid Of Me. All of Harvey's work since has a different tone, though much of it is equally as good as the two albums recorded by the trio. Part of the magic behind Rid Of Me may very well have been the production work of music legend Steve Albini. Albini, who was in the studio with Nirvana when Rid Of Me was released, also produced landmark albums for groups like The Pixies, Om, and Flogging Molly. Throughout Rid Of Me, it is obvious that Albini was trying to push the group as far as they could go in every musical direction, and the result is a far more abrasive and combative sound on the album. Fusing their own signature sound with one of the most memorable songs of all time, the band executes an absolutely brilliant cover of the Bob Dylan classic, "Highway '61 Revisited." While the song generally falls into the "you really shouldn't cover this song" category, PJ Harvey makes the song her own, and breathes a dark, yet superb new live into the classic tune.

When it comes down to it, PJ Harvey is as much of a rock band as you'll find anywhere. Bringing all the angst you can handle, alongside aggressive, crushing music, the trio of musicians brings enough noise and attitude as the finest rock bands ever. Taking the classic feel of rock music, the unforgiving attitude of punk, and giving it moody, dark overtones, the sound of this band served as a model for groups like The Kills and Vivian Girls. The drumming of Ellis is truly fantastic, often working only a cymbal and the bass drum, yet providing all the rhythm and thump that the song needs. Vaughn is just as capable as his bandmates, and he somehow creates deep grooves in the face of what seems like the border of musical chaos. Harvey herself is clearly a top notch guitarist, and though she rarely does anything even remotely resembling a solo, her consistently pulverizing, somewhat menacing guitar work is the perfect compliment to the other two musicians.

The sound that comes from PJ Harvey is often hypnotic, and it is no surprise that she served as the muse for Nick Cave for many, many years. The true majesty behind the music of PJ Harvey lies within the voice and writing of the bands' namesake. With a vocal delivery that takes inspiration from the likes of Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde, her singing is a stunning mixture of deep, poetic lyrics, with a fierce delivery. A unique combination of soul, blues, and punk in her voice, Harvey seamlessly changes from being on the musical attack, to a quick retreat, often within the same musical phrase. The lyrics, all written by Harvey (except, of course, "Highway 61"), are beautifully dark explorations of human nature, more specifically, love, sex, and a healthy dose of religious allusion. The words Harvey writes are often perfectly penned black humor, though there is an overwhelming feel of a tortured soul which runs through her entire recorded catalog.

In an era when most female performers were taking the more quiet, subtle approach, PJ Harvey was making some of the most blunt and crushing music anywhere. Her simple trio proved time and time again to have as much musical force and talent as any other band in the music world. Combining elements of rock, blues, soul, and giving it a much, much darker feel, PJ Harvey set the bar for what could be achieved by female performers. Harvey's unmistakable voice and delivery ensured the bands' success, and her sound and style have been mimicked, yet unequaled, countless times since she appeared on the music scene almost twenty years ago. A powerhouse of focused angst and anger, PJ Harvey wrote some of the most potent, soul bearing lyrics that the world has ever seen. With an unsurpassed combination of power and purpose, there is truly not another album ever made that is quite like PJ Harvey's 1993 masterpiece, Rid Of Me.

Standout tracks: "Rid Of Me," "50ft Queenie," and "Man-Size."

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