Soundchecks Music Reviews

Uh Huh Her by P.J. Harvey

Island 986 6711

P.J. Harvey

review by Christopher Geary

Considerably less pop orientated than previous CD, Stories... this Grammy nominated album harks back to Polly Jean Harvey's earliest works, with a self-conscious title, which seems to acknowledge that her brand of overtly cynical 'miserabilist' rock music (abject negativity, unbridled pessimism, deeply romanticised) is not to everyone's taste. Still, I hasten to add, that's definitely not saying this is poor quality music as, on the contrary, Uh Huh Her boasts many great songs. But it needs mentioning first off that the album is full of material that may appeal only to Ms Harvey's long-time fans, and appears unlikely to find her any new converts.

Via doggedly plodding guitars and its story of a lying tongue, The Life & Death Of Mr Badmouth is a song about poisonous talk and an equally toxic kiss ("Plenty goes in but nothing good comes out/... Wash it out"). Shame continues this generally downbeat tone, but gets livelier and rather more intense, despite being just as brief. The energy level cranks higher for Who The Fuck? - which dissects its title's well-worn exclamation of incredulity, and recycles it throughout the song's various connotations and vocal inflections, to re-examine all of the question's possible sexually menacing and absurdly comic nuances. Thus, as in any other such lyrical wordplay experiment, the phrase itself becomes meaningless, and yet gains new resonance in the process. I guess that's the whole point.

Pocket Knife is subtler, yet hardly subdued, with the rolling melody of its guitars and the uncannily focused line: "My pocket knife's got a shiny blade." Harvey reaches her most controlled intensity in The Letter, her sustained wails making a strong counterpoint to alternately bell-ringing and darkly rumbling guitars, and martial drums. The overall effect leaves any listener holding their breath. In Slow Drug, we're back to the merely disquieting though undeniably potent meter again, while the sheer brevity ensures this one's suitable for endless repeat playing on the CD deck. No Child Of Mine is extremely short, again, but its strong vocal lines and acoustic guitar accompaniment is superb.

Cat On The Wall (apparently re-titled from 'The Radio Oh Oh') has some of the best guitar riffs on the album, and benefits immensely from another searing vocal performance. You Came Through is notably less sinister, and is almost a 'happy' song by Harvey's usual standards. It's You returns to the by-now familiar brooding tone with some hauntingly melancholic ("When I'm not with you/ Everything just comes apart"), obsessive though perhaps accusatory, lyrics. Quietly enigmatic instrumental The End is dedicated to actor Vincent Gallo.

The Desperate Kingdom Of Love is composed with exquisite tenderness of feeling and has a gently soothing acoustic guitar, but this deliberately masks a seething passion we know of from Harvey's other recordings. Closing track The Darker Days Of Me & Him is another slice of vintage Harvey, with a superbly resonant, six-string melody and the cult singer's achingly emotive voice quavering as if on the edge of breakdown. It's simply another fantastic song on this magical album.

Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press