Polly Jean and John

Posted: April 7, 2009 by Mike Estabrook in BLARE -- music, POP - pop culture
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PJ Harvey has always balanced her yelp with both force and subtlety. On her second collaboration with instrumentalist John Parish, A Woman a Man Walked By, PJ’s adaptive voice gloriously navigates through Parish’s haunting production.

Following 2007’s piano-only White Chalk, PJ is back to what she does best: unpredictability. The method behind this album’s creation (Parish recorded the music before PJ provided the strong lyrics and vocals) enabled 10 vastly different pieces of beauty.

“Black Hearted Love,” the lead track, feels like a re-introduction to vintage PJ. Her signature engaging echo is coupled with powerful riffs, missing since Uh Huh Her. The video, featuring PJ on a moon bounce, is pretty sweet too.

“Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen” deviates from this structured rocker. The fast-paced rhythm highlights PJ’s off-kilter posturing and spoken-word.

The next track, “Leaving California,” featuring a high-pitched PJ, is one of the darkest on the record. Its noir-ish longing for England is moody and enchanting.

“The Chair” is built around fragmentation and PJ’s impressive ability to let the music guide her.

Boozy vocals and Parish’s sullen organs in “April” trod along until PJ ends the track with a gorgeous crescendo.

The most interesting track is “A Woman a Man Walked By / The Crow Knows Where All the Little Children Go.” PJ always has attitude but never like this. The lyric, “That woman-man / I want his fucking ass / I want his fucking ass / I want your fucking ass,” does not even capture its awesome weirdness.

“The Soldier,” abruptly changes the tone. A meditative slow-burner with minimal accompaniment, it emphasizes the strength of PJ’s whisper.

But PJ can scream too. “Pig Will Not” is full of her overwhelming growl and Parish’s grungy punch.

The entrancing “Passionless, Pointless” and spoken/instrumental closer, “Cracks in the Canvas,” end this triumphant showcase of experimentation.

These spectral variations imply a lack of cohesion. However, PJ is spectral herself; she’s never been one thing in her music. PJ can be loud, soft, outlandish, reflective, withdrawn and masculine. In that sense, A Woman a Man Walked By is a cohesive, loud, soft, outlandish, reflective, withdrawn and masculine representation of Polly Jean Harvey, with John Parish lushly illuminating each aspect.

~ Mike Estabrook

  1. Katie says:

    I’m downloading it as we speak. Yesss.

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