Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/23/04.
Only 12 years into her recording career, PJ Harvey has endured to be one of rock’s most intriguing figures. Always changing her sound Harvey continued to push the envelope for herself as a songwriter and musician. After 2000’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea and its following tour, Harvey took a break from her demanding career to be involved with side projects. One of the projects Harvey did was for the Desert Sessions with Queen of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme. After playing around in the project, Harvey decided to go back to her solo career with longtime drummer Rob Ellis for a more stripped-down sound in comparison to the glossy pop-laden production of her previous album entitled Uh Huh Her.
Uh Huh Her might seem to be a return to the raw, angst-laden style of 1993’s Rid of Me but musically and lyrically, it evolves from that record. Talks of sex, love, feminism, and pain are sung but in more mature levels. Whereas Steve Albini help give Rid of Me a lot of the emotional and musical punch from his production, Harvey chooses to do the album herself with playing most of the instruments with only Rob Ellis on drums and percussion. While guitars mostly dominate the record, the album also features Harvey on keyboards, bass, and acoustic instruments. Even in its raw, stripped-down format, Uh Huh Her experiments more with certain music styles to push her songwriting to new levels while Ellis’ drumming is more minimalist by not having any cymbal crashes or traditional drum fills (on some cuts). While not up to par with the masterpieces of Rid of Me and To Bring You My Love, Uh Huh Her is another achievement in Harvey’s adventurous career.
The album opens with The Life & Death of Mr. Badmouth with its stripped-down bravado of distorted, droning guitar riffs and Rob Ellis’ slow, bass-pounding drums. PJ Harvey sings the song’s sneering lyrics of pain with her grungy guitar accompaniment as she sings the song with her seductive, snarling vocals that includes the chorus line of “Wash it out”. With only guitars, drums, and vocals in the song, Harvey and Ellis just play the song with Harvey also bringing a melancholic piano accompaniment behind the distorted wails of her guitar. Shame is more rhythmic-based song with warbling Latin rhythms from Ellis’ drums and Harvey’s lush vocals and distorted, washy guitar accompaniment. Harvey is also accompanied by a soft, harmonica track that she performs with her sexually laden lyrics of ambiguity and her mesmerizing, high-pitch, blues-wailing vocals.
Who The F*ck? is a return to Harvey’s Rid of Me rocking days with Ellis’ hard-hitting snares and warbling, guitar playing from Harvey who brings in her wailing, snarling vocals to the song. The song is raw, unadulterated Harvey with her angry lyrics filled with intense sexuality in her vocals proving that she is sexy with just her voice and guitar. Pocket Knife is a lush, more atmospheric track with gypsy-like rhythms from Ellis on percussions and Harvey just playing a distorted guitar wash. Harvey brings a high-pitch vocal range to the song’s dark, guilt laden lyrics filled with Harvey’s obtuse, poetic imagery in her lyrics that proved how far she’s come over the years lyrically and vocally. The Letter is a more rocking track with melodic, ringing riffs and Harvey’s deep vocals and distorted guitar riffs accompany Ellis’ machine gun-like sputtering beats. With Harvey’s vocals and her desperate lyrics of love is filled with her raw emotions and minimalist musical presentations in the guitars and drums.
The Slow Drug is an eerie ballad led by Harvey on keyboards that harkens to the darker territories of To Bring You My Love. The song features plucking string accompaniments with Harvey leading on keyboards and her dense, evocative vocals filled with ambiguous lyrics of dark layers and imagery about a boy’s fall from grace. The track’s keyboard-laden sound and Harvey’s vocals make this song the darkest on the album filled with painful lyrics of despair in this eerie track. No Child Of Mine is an acoustic ballad with Harvey singing with only an acoustic guitar and Evelyn Issac on background vocals. The song is a return to Harvey’s love for the blues with her lyrics detachment in this short, ode to the blues. Cat On The Wall is a return to the distorted, grungy guitars of earlier songs with Harvey wailing, “Turn off the radio” in her swooning vocals. With Ellis on drums, Harvey brings in more painful lyrics with her scream of “Turn off the radio” with her angst-ridden vocals of feminism powered by her driving guitars and accompanying, whistling keyboards.
You Came Through is a ballad with slower, bass-pounding rhythms from Ellis and xylophone-like keyboard riffs with an accompanying, shimmering harmonica track. Harvey goes into her seductive vocals of love with a chorus line of “You come through for me”. While You Came Through is the most accessible track on the album amidst the grungy guitars and darker songs, the track shows Harvey’s ability to be a pop songwriter without conveying to traditional pop songwriting structure by only using her vocals as the key instrument. It’s You is another ballad-like track with more robotic-like, slow drumbeats from Ellis and Harvey leading the song with a piano with distorted guitars on the background. Harvey even leads the song with her swooning, depth-driven vocals with her desperate lyrics of love and guilt where she lets the track in its raw tone. The End is an instrumental piece only accompanied by a soft, washy electric guitar track and harmonica all performed by PJ Harvey in its soft, subtle presentation that she dedicates to indie actor/filmmaker Vincent Gallo.
The Desperate Kingdom Of Love is another love ballad that pretty much sums up its title with Harvey’s soft, deep vocals and an acoustic guitar accompaniment. Again in that stripped-down approach, Harvey just keeps it simple in its performance while her lyrics are filled with desperation in its soft vocals and dense production. The next track is an untitled instrumental that is filled with nothing but calls from seagulls with crashing soft waves of the oceans. The album’s closer The Darker Days Of Me & Him is another acoustic-driven track but with the dark textures of string textures of The Slow Drug and soft, drum beats from Ellis. Harvey conveys the song’s guilt-driven lyrics of love with her raw, evocative vocals. With soft, warbling keyboard riffs and Ellis’ soft drums, the song brings the album to a dark, uncomforting close.
While Uh Huh Her isn’t as consistent as Rid of Me or To Bring You My Love, it is still one of PJ Harvey’s finer efforts to date. While the album’s rockier tracks will bring some familiarity to those who enjoyed Rid of Me while other songs is a reminder of To Bring You My Love and other records, Harvey used her past to move forward while experimenting with new musical styles. Overall, its Harvey being at her most uncompromising with no rules and just keeps it plain and simple. Fans will undoubtedly enjoy this record while newer fans should just get Rid of Me or To Bring You My Love for better introductions while this record isn’t a bad start. In the end, Uh Huh Her is a raw, adventurous album from one of rock’s most challenging heroines.
PJ Harvey Reviews: Dry - 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 - The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 - White Chalk - A Woman A Man Walked By (w/ John Parish) - Let England Shake
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