Rid of Me
Rating: 1 (library disc)
"Hey, P.J. Harvey!" thought I when I ran across this at the library. "I've read so much about her, I'm really looking forward to hearing this." Then I listened to it. "Have all the critics acquired Macca syndrome (the inability to distinguish good music from bad)?" thought I. "I can't believe this is on a major label."
This disc was a chore to listen to. I don't mean it required a lot of emotional energy or anything, I mean there was a lot of work involved. It would get very quiet, and I'd have to turn it up, then suddenly ear-blastingly loud, requiring more adjustment of the volume. Who engineered this? Don't they know how to use a compressor? Oh, it's Steve Albini, notorious career-wrecking bad-record producer. I don't know why people hire him. They could come to my house and I could make a crappy record on my four-track for a fraction of the cost.
I could live with the lousy production if the music was any good. It's not. You know when you go to an acoustic open-mic night somewhere and one of the performers plucks some rudimentary chords and proceeds to express all their teen angst in "poetic" lyrics with melodies stolen from the Doors, and everyone looks away embarrassed? Imagine it with a rhythm section. That's P.J. Harvey.
I'll admit she has a nice voice, sort of like Chrissie Hynde meets Shirley Manson, but what's the point if it's buried in the mix?
Avoid this record.
Is This Desire?
Rating: 4 (library disc)
On Cole Bozman's recommendation, I checked this out, and he's right, it's a big step up from Rid of Me. The abrasiveness is replaced by dullness, and there are a number of actually pleasant moments.
Throughout the disc, Harvey's voice is brought up in the mix, and she is quite a singer, with great range and control, and a fabulous tone. The production, by Harvey herself and some guys with only one name apiece, sets her voice in usually lush (but not cheesy) layers that set it off nicely.
The riffs, unfortunately, are rather predictable, such as the three-note pattern on "A Perfect Day Elise" or the Zeppelin-derived (and God knows they probably derived it from somebody else) "The Sky Lit Up." Other times, there are no noticeable rhythms at all, just stately, quiet chords humming along ("The Wind", "Catherine", "Electric Light" - putting those two in a row was a mistake - I thought it was all one song the first time through).
There are a couple great moments - "The River" has a mystical lyric (in the best sense, implying a story of magic overtones) set to a thrillingly dynamic arrangement and moving melody, while "The Garden" bops along to an intriguing beat. Other moments revert to the harsh production of Rid of Me and are almost unlistenable amidst this lushness ("Joy", "My Beautiful Leah").
PJ Harvey is a little confused about where her talents lie - she's a terrific singer with some interesting ideas, but she could definitely use a collaborator to polish her lyrics and arrangements into actual songs instead of collections of musical bits.
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