PJ Harvey and John Parish: A Woman A Man Walked By (Universal)

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PJ Harvey and John Parish: Pig Will Not
PJ Harvey and John Parish: A Woman A Man Walked By (Universal)

The very great and waywardly inventive PJ Harvey once told interviewer Barney Hoskyns, "I've spent my entire time trying to explain to people that I'm a creative writer. People jump to conclusions, and I can understand it, because if I'm very interested in an artist -- whether it's Neil Young, Bob Dylan, whoever -- I want to imagine that those stories are true. But I think also that when I listen to those writers I project my own stories on their songs. And I'd like people to be able to that with mine."

Only a fool or the seriously disturbed would consider these 10 songs with John Parish -- with whom she did Dance Hall at Louse Point a full 12 years ago, and who produced her innovative and liberating 2007 album White Chalk -- would think that these disturbing, sometimes self-conscious art statements and occasionally fierce vocals are Harvey's literal stories. And maybe only the very disturbed might want to project their own stories onto them.

As Harvey told me in 2001 about her image in the world of rock: "I think the kind of label that's been used so much is that I'm some sort of dark woman, the angry, man-hating, damning, miserable woman of rock. Which isn't what I'm like at all. A lot of people who haven't met me are quite scared of me and anticipate being very nervous around me because I'm going to fly off the handle at any minute. And I'm nothing like that at all." 

Let's hope not because there is a dark, uncomfortable beauty at work in the more poetic songs (Passionless Pointless about the embers of a relationship), but also in places a kind of vocal and musical abandonment which has had other reviewers pointing to Captain Beefheart or Grinderman, Nick Cave's noisy and battered-blues side-project from the Bad Seeds.

This is perhaps Harvey's most experimental album yet, full of weird musical textures, bellowing vocals, pottymouth anger on the almost laugh-out-loud title track -- and yet also deeply felt, heart aching songs (the mother lamenting her drowned son on the lyrically spare but musically tense The Chair which has a kind of Middle Eastern keen in her vocals).

It is also a marvellously deceptive album: it opens with an almost alt.pop-rock manoeuvre of Black Hearted Love and follows it up with a kind of folk-rock Patti Smith mystery poem (also a bit reminiscent of some of Led Zeppelin's Anglofolk) and the breezy but melancholy Leaving California in which she laments a loss in Cali-land but welcomes a return to England.

By this time you may think you've established the territory, but the surprises soon follow.

Abrasive guitar, Harvey straining at her vocal leash, songs of density and darkness, odd arrangements and musical interpolations, some trickling synthesisers, battered piano lines . . .

This isn't an album for casual Harvey listeners I suspect, but it is certainly one of her most commanding and if not everything succeeds then it is still hats off for taking the risks when it might have been easier to settle for less.

But she is an artist and creative writer, after all. 

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