When she first emerged under her own name in the early ’90s with the album Dry we called her “PJ Harvey”, because “Polly” seemed rather too familiar for someone so tightly wound and sharply poetic. She changed over time, but even in 2001 when I interviewed her before a Big Day Out it was with some trepidation. But she was funny, personable, quite charming and amused by the image she had. In advance of her upcoming tour dates, here’s our buyers’ guide to PJ.
Rid Of Me (1993)
Darker and more difficult than her demanding debut Dry of the previous year, this collection catalogues some of the deeper recesses of a troubled mind (a relationship had ended) and is full of vengeance, rage, punk anger and dense blues. Twisting melodies and Steve Albini’s production only add to the allure.
To Bring You My Love (1995)
This belated follow-up to Rid Of Me was even more complex lyrically, owed debts to Captain Beefheart and Patti Smith, and again turned the microscope on her emotions after another relationship came apart. But in its weave of dense poetry, compelling music and producer Flood’s atmospheric settings, it was picked as the year’s best by many writers and magazines. Essential in any collection.
By this time she was “Polly”, parading a confident sexuality, and from the chiming guitar jangle of the openers Big Exit and Good Fortune there was a more mainstream pop-rock ethic in play, and – although she still explored some nooks and crannies – you sensed she was emerging as a new person, more comfortable in her own skin. It won her the Mercury Prize after two previous nominations.
Let England Shake (2001)
Another Mercury Prize-winner and an album inspired by her readings about the folly of historic and current wars. But again, she wrapped her narratives and thoughts in engrossing music. She subsequently released a series of short films for the songs using images by war photographer Seamus Murphy.
Check out this year’s The Hope Six Demolition Project, the result of her trip to Afghanistan, Kosovo and a beleaguered suburb of Washington DC with photographer Murphy. Also the risky, sometimes uncomfortable but ultimately engaging A Woman A Man Walked By (2009), her second collaboration with producer/multi-instrumentalist John Parish.