Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 4/18/09.
The 1990s alternative rock music scene proved to be a fruitful period for women in rock. Being an alternative to the likes of Madonna, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey, artists like Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Kim Deal of the Pixies and the Breeders, and many others gave women something different. Especially since there were more about making great songs and being open to audiences rather than play around on some corporate image. Another artist that emerged from that scene is a British singer-songwriter who was very different from her alt-rock peers as she delved into different styles of music. Her name is Polly Jean Harvey but is simply known more as PJ Harvey.
Born in October of 1969, Harvey grew up listening to the blues as well as the art-rock sounds of Captain Beefheart in Bridport, Dorset of England. Later going into the early 80s new wave sounds to the indie music of the Pixies, Television, and Slint. Harvey played in several bands in the early 90s including one with longtime friend John Parish. She also met drummer Rob Ellis where she and Ellis formed a band for her own solo artwork that would later bring in Steve Vaughn on bass. In late 1991, Harvey released a single on the Too Pure indie label that caught the attention of reknowned DJ John Peel. Harvey would later go to work on her first full-length album that would mark the arrival of a new queen in alternative rock entitled Dry.
Produced by PJ Harvey, Rob Ellis, and Vernon with a majority of songs written by Harvey and four co-written with Ellis. Dry is an album filled with simple, stripped-down songs with just guitars, bass, and drums with bits of string performances of violins, bass, and cellos. Raw and to the point with songs about sex, angst, and female empowerment, it's a record that is aggressive with a melodic sensibility and odes to the blues. The result is one of the most fascinating debut albums from any female artist.
The album opens with Oh My Lover arrives with PJ Harvey's wailing vocals as she's supported by a wobbly bass line with a smooth, mid-tempo track with Rob Ellis' pounding drums. With Harvey playing a washy, driving guitar track to the song's slow, smooth presentation with despaired lyrics of desperation as the track intensifies in its performance though its tempo remains the same. O Stella is an up tempo track with driving, dissonant guitar riffs and swift, bouncy rhythms with angry lyrics. Filled with her wailing, somber vocals, it's a track that includes some scratchy guitars, wobbly bass lines, and driving beats that are wonderfully simplistic yet intense. The first single Dress arrives with a driving guitar riff that is accompanied by Ellis' rumbling, snare-bouncing beats with Harvey's sexual-laden lyrics. With its upbeat rhythm and screeching violin backgrounds, it's has Harvey playing a blues-like solo on the guitar while singing in a nasally, high-pitch vocal style on a section of the song.
Victory is a mid-tempo, twangy song with Steve Vaughn's wobbly bass line driving the song with Ellis' smooth, bass-rumbling beats with Harvey's smooth vocals and warbling guitar slides. With its lyrics of empowerment, the band's performance intensify with its driving guitars and thundering rhythms with its sparse presentation. Happy And Bleeding is a track with Harvey's vocals sung quietly through a mix along with washy guitar riff as she sings sexual-laden lyrics. With Ellis' smooth, hi-hat cymbal accompaniment and Harvey's blues-sliding guitar work, the song's mix comes to a full sound of thundering drum beats and Harvey's wailing vocals filled with seductive vocal notes and wavy melodies. The second single Sheela-na-gig is an upbeat song that starts out as a smooth song with blues-sliding riffs that become a more driving track on the guitar with bouncy rhythms. With lyrics delving in sex and exhibitionism, Harvey sings in a playful manner with a smooth vocal range as it's accompanied by Harvey's bluesy solos and thumping rhythms.
Hair is a song with smooth, tribal-like beats from Ellis' drums with Vaughn's smooth, wobbly bass lines which includes tempo changes and Harvey's smooth vocals. With its descriptive lyrics and a ruthless presentation of loud, driving guitars and Harvey's angry vocals. It's a song that revels in Harvey's diversity in song structures and rhythms. Joe is a fast, upbeat song with punk-driven guitar riffs and fast, energetic beats from Rob Ellis as Harvey goes into some blazing grunge riffs and angry lyrics with her wailing vocals. It's punk energy and Harvey's guitar work with swirling melodies and washy guitar work shows that she can play as it's a nice little ode to punk and grunge. Plants And Rags is an acoustic ballad with soft, hollow beats from Rob Ellis that features a smooth yet swift string quartet in the background. Filled with lyrics of heartbreak and despair, Harvey adds an electric guitar accompaniment filled with screeching violins as it's a song that revels in its performance and presentation.
Fountain arrives with Steve Vaughn's wobbly bass line that's followed by Harvey's dissonant guitar riff that becomes more washy with Ellis' smooth yet bouncy back beat with cymbal crashes. With Harvey's wailing vocals and dark, despaired lyrics, it's a song that has Harvey's vocals filled with lots of angst in this smooth though intense performance. The album closer Water is a simple, bouncy track with Harvey's washy, melodic riffs and a thumping rhythm. With Harvey's wailing vocals and angry lyrics, it's a song that has a lot of power when it features a driving guitar riff that intensifies with Harvey's sexual-moaning vocals right to the end.
When the album was first released in June of 1992 in Britain and later in the U.S., the album was also released with a limited edition extra disc filled with demos of the songs from the album entitled Dry Demonstration which is essentially the entire album performed acoustically by Harvey track-for-track in its same sequence. Yet, some songs feature an electric guitar accompaniment from Harvey herself. The overall recording of demos show a richness in its performance and simple presentation showing there's a lot of magic Harvey puts into the demos, some of which are superior to the actual recordings.
The album was released to rave reviews though Harvey managed to attract controversy by posing topless and showing her unshaven armpits on the cover of NME magazine. Harvey also gained attention in the U.S. as one of the new leading singer-songwriters of the alternative rock music scene. The attention Harvey received resulted in a bidding war where Harvey signed with Island Records while the album was reissued by the label itself. The album Dry was hailed as a favorite for Nirvana vocalist/guitarist Kurt Cobain while noted alternative rock producer Steve Albini also was a fan of the record. Albini's praise caught Harvey's attention as Albini would produce her next album Rid of Me released in early 1993.
Dry is a raw yet stellar debut release from PJ Harvey. Featuring a simple, crisp production and amazing performances from Harvey, Rob Ellis, and Steve Vaughn, it's an album that is fierce yet sexy. Though it's a record that isn't as consistent as later albums, it's a record that has a lot of bite while its additional material filled with acoustic demos is a must-have for hardcore fans. In the end, for a record that is sexy yet rocking, Dry is the album to get from PJ Harvey.
PJ Harvey Reviews: Rid of Me - 4-Track Demos - To Bring You My Love - Dance Hall at Louse Point (w/ John Parish) - Is This Desire? - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea - Uh Huh Her - The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 - White Chalk - A Woman A Man Walked By (w/ John Parish) - Let England Shake
(C) thevoid99 2011